The Messenger

The Messenger

Student Perspectives: National Walkout

Editor's note: We, the editors of the IHS Messenger, have two different stories to tell. The following are our perspectives on Wednesday's national walkout.

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Student Perspectives: National Walkout

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Allie Utley, Participant

When I first heard about the school walkouts, I was amplified. I was proud of my generation for finally banding together to support something that involved us directly at the core. Yet, I was worried. I was worried that, due to our school being so small and somewhat secluded from “the outside world,” no one would even be interested in taking part of something so political. Eventually I put my thoughts to the side, and forgot about the issue all together.

Then, last week over the intercom I hear these words ring throughout the school: come and help make posters for the school walkout during seminar today. That’s when I began to get excited. I ended up making a poster that read “REVOLUTION NO. 10.” Anyone who knows me personally knows that I am an avid Beatles fan. In 1968 while “the teenagers” were protesting against the Vietnam War, John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote a pretty neat song called “Revolution No. 9,” and I thought this was the first real time since, that youth banded together to fight for what we believe in. We are finally in a new generation.

Gabby Richards
My peer and longtime friend, sophomore Lexie Vega and I thought up this poster idea. Vega and I walked side by side during the march.

And then, the day of the walkout finally came. The previous night, I saw only a few people through the means of Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter express their concerns with the movement. Saying in part that they did not want to be grouped with other political movements like the Women’s March “Enough”. I didn’t give it much thought. I figured there will always be someone who doesn’t agree with you, and it’s something I’ve learned to accept. I went on my own social media platforms and expressed my beliefs of why people should participate and clarified what the walkout represented.

As I walked upstairs to grab my poster a few minutes before the infamous 10:00, I overheard many people already discussing the morning’s activities. I couldn’t help but smile at the thought of people my age actually being involved in something that truly mattered, rather than what the Kardashians were wearing or who was getting the highest seed in the NCAA tournament. Eventually there was an announcement made over the school’s intercom directing students to where everyone would be meeting, the south side by the flagpole. I was pleasantly surprised and impressed with our school’s staff and how they handled the situation. They were nothing but supportive of the cause, but also continued to relentlessly clarify that this was a voluntary movement, and no one was being forced to participate. Since then, I’ve heard rumors that teachers were forcing students to walk. Nothing could be further from the truth, in Iola’s case at least.

As we all huddled on the south lawn of the school, I was startled by how many students actually wanted to take part in the activity. You would think that high schoolers would just play a game of “follow the leader” in a thing like this, but there were students actually discussing the issue in a calm, civilized debate. It certainly opened up a great discussion within our school system.

Eventually, two of our schools Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) student leaders instructed us on what was going to happen. They once again reminded us of why were there, and they explained to us that in remembrance of the lives lost, we would all march in silence.

“Because the victims’ voices were silenced, we will remain silent.” Those words resonated inside of me.

And then we were off. People passed around the posters that had previously been made. “EDUCATION NOT ANNIHILATION” was one of my personal favorites. As we walked, people that we passed did double takes. Cars pulled over and shop owners came outside to view our posters while giving us their subtle nods. We walked in pure silence. I was still able to hear the loud Kansas wind blowing through the trees as if I was there standing alone. I also noticed that there was an overwhelming amount of police cars that circled around the square as we walked. At first I figured they thought we would be those rowdy teenagers who would start banging on store windows or something. When I whispered this to my friend she said, “I actually think they are here to make sure no one tries to hurt us.” A valid point. Either way, I was thankful they were there.

I think one of my favorite parts of the entire morning was while we were marching, a group of adults approached us. I figured they were just spectators until I noticed a red-headed man who seemed to be the leader come out from behind. I recognized him from other events that had previously gone on in Iola: David Toland. Once I came to the realization that Mr. Toland and other Thrive employees were there to join the protest too, I was grateful. It was very encouraging to see not only students fighting for the safety of America’s youth, but adults as well.

If I learned one thing from this movement, it would be that the future of our country is not “doomed,” people still care about us, and young millennials will continue to fight for a better tomorrow. Generation Z isn’t just a bunch of kids glued to their cell phones. We are more aware than we’ve ever been about the current state of our communities, states, country and our world, and we are hell-bent on changing it. We won’t let what happens to us happen to our children.

 

Dyllan Jones, Non-Participant

On March 14, a nationwide movement hit America’s schools. As a reaction to the Parkland shooting that left 17 students dead, among other, similar occurrences, American youths briefly exited their schools and walked in protest of a number of factors, chief among them being the state of gun laws in the United States. Some students walked home, some led their own organized marches in the streets, and the rest remained at school either as counter-protestors or simply as students who wished not to get involved. Iola High School administration had a unique response to this issue: they decided to remove the political angle — as well as all mention of guns — and claim the purpose of the event was to promote school safety. While I found the effort to minimize conflict admirable, I was unswayed by it.

I did not participate because I found the link between our walkout for school safety and the nationwide walkout that primarily addressed gun control to be inextricable, even though it was sweetened with its avowed lack of connection to the overarching political division that emerged in response to the Parkland shooting. They did, in fact, occur on the same day and receive the same designation. Our walkout was still known by the public as “The Walkout” just like the rest, and whether students believed that they were lending their voice to the crowd or simply standing in solidarity with school shooting victims, it was still a component of a much larger phenomenon that aligned it with pro-gun control sentiment that I disagree with on the basis of my belief that there is an unlikely correlation between legal gun ownership and gun crime, and that I would ultimately run the risk of involuntarily supporting more radical legislation such as the banning of semi-automatic weapons, as House Democrats introduced in late February. Although the technical link between the local walkout and the larger debate proved unsettling on its own, it did not help that our school’s co-opting offered little definition. Students were to determine for themselves what school safety meant to them, but the result was aimless moral resentment and a call for undefined change.

I established that I refused to participate in the local walkout on the basis that I believed it to be connected, whether intentionally or not, to the grand argument of gun control, but that statement may seem unclear. I did not lend myself to the school walkout because I refused to lend myself to a movement that will ultimately prove ineffective in preventing future incidents. If full national attention is turned toward gun control, it is then too easy to overlook other underlying factors that are essential in reaching a rational consensus regarding tragedy prevention.

The conversation should be about more than just guns when there are perfectly legitimate concerns to be raised about the accountability of the individuals and organizations put into place with the express purpose of defending Americans. We know that Nikolas Cruz, the primary suspect of the shooting in question, was mentally ill and demonstrated a desire to commit a school shooting. Despite numerous tips to the FBI and local police regarding the instability of Cruz’s mental health and the Promise Program for Violence Prevention that would have prevented Cruz from legally obtaining his weapon if the law were enforced, the shooting was not prevented. We also know that school shooters tend to be tragic characters who are bullied, come from single-parent households, lack effective mental health treatment, and/or are prescribed mood regulating medication. There are early indicators that demonstrate an individual’s likelihood to commit a violent crime that are being ignored or totally dismissed. The national movement regarded gun control; the local movement was, even if it has enough plausible deniability to claim that it was only unwittingly so, a component of that national movement.

When I chose to sit in on March 14, I did so with the intention of remembering the victims of the shooting on my own without being a participant in an unclear protest; without running the risk of unwittingly supporting the national cause which was incomplete and pliable enough for politicians to commandeer for their agendas; and without running the risk of unnecessarily politicizing a tragedy. I applied the same thought process as any conscientious objector who chooses not to sign a terms of service agreement based on a single point he or she finds questionable. I believe that most students who sat in during the walkout similarly objected to being made a statistic when they were fully capable of remembering the victims on their own terms. By participating, I would have been a statistic myself. I would have been one walker, in one walkout, in one national movement dedicated to a political cause I object to on a fundamental level.

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