Northside Students Protest Gun Violence at Grant Park Walkout
by Kenny Larson
Following the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida in February, high school students from across the United States have began speaking out against gun violence. On March 14, hundreds of Northsiders left their colloquia for seventeen minutes of silence, not only to mourn the deaths of the students killed in the Parkland shooting, but also as an act of protest against gun violence across the country. To continue to make themselves heard, many Northside students chose to walkout from their sixth period classes on April 20 to join thousands of other students from across the city for a gun violence protest at Grant Park.
As soon as their first period classes concluded, Northsiders conjugated near the entrance of the school. “The students that helped organize the walkout provided some guidelines for those planning to go to Grant Park,” said Campbell O’Conor, Adv. 903, “and then everyone started walking to the train.” Once they arrived at Grant Park, Northsiders joined thousands of other high school students for a series of speeches and poems about how to fix pervasive violence in Chicago and the United States. Molly Furlong, Adv. 906, who also attended the event, said that the group of students was so large that they had to stay at Grant Park instead of moving to the federal building due to concerns that the group would block the road.
Although the protest’s main message was against gun violence in general, the walkout took place on the nineteenth anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre. As a sign of respect, the leaders of the protest led the students in a brief thirteen seconds of silence to symbolize the thirteen lives lost during the Columbine shooting. Additionally, the protesters also released balloons to remember the victims of the Parkland shooting.
While the goal of the Grant Park walkout was made fairly clear during the protests, many of the students chose to speak out for a variety of different reasons. “I believe that there needs to be a change in gun laws in this country,” said O’Conor, commenting on his motivations behind joining the walkout. “By demonstrating, we move closer to reform.” Furlong also added that the demonstration allowed her and other students to change the way people discuss gun reform. “I wanted to walk because I knew that the narrative in Chicago regarding gun violence is a lot different from what the media has been covering nationally. On a national scale, people of color have been ignored, even though they’ve been protesting gun violence and walking out for years.”
Similarly, many other student-led protests occurred across the country on the same day, known altogether as the National School Walkout. The wave of recent walkouts has occurred partially as a result of the leadership demonstrated by the students of Stoneman Douglas High School. After organizing many of their own national protests, including the March For Our Lives in Washington D.C., many students, including Northsiders, have more actively spoken out against gun violence in country. In an effort to raise awareness for the cause, many other organizations, including Wear Orange, have also planned several other protests for later this year. Thanks to recent student activism and leadership, substantial momentum toward gun reform has been growing. While no federal legislation has been created in response to the demonstrations, gun control advocates hope that continued pressure will eventually lead to change. Overall, Furlong said that walking out was a worthwhile effort, even if it meant being potentially punished by school administrators for skipping class. “I think that activism is about sacrifice and disruption,” said Furlong. “I had a couple of stressful nights as a result of walking out, but I’m really happy that I did it overall.”