There’s a girl with a megaphone standing on the median of Dolores Street in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood.
“What do I have?” she shouts.
“A right to live!” the crowd answers back.
That crowd is made up of middle school students from Children’s Day School in San Francisco, who joined kids around the country in walking out of classes today in solidarity with the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a mass shooting killed 17 people last month, and to demand stricter gun control.
“I just want people to stop the school shootings. There’s been so many these past years, and I just want it to stop,” said 13-year-old Kaliko Rivera, a seventh grader at CDS. “Restrict guns, finally.”
Mishan Gagnon, 13, an eighth grader at CDS, handed out pamphlets created by his class that listed myths around gun ownership, statistics about gun violence in the United States and examples of firearm regulations from countries like Japan and Germany. Another section listed facts and the reasoning behind gun control restrictions the class supports, like banning bump stocks and silencers.
“We think this is a really terrible problem and there’s an easy, statistically proven way to stop it,” said classmate Odinsard Thayer, 14. “It’s infuriating that the government is doing nothing about it. We want to see legislation on background checks and definitely a ban on automatic/semi-automatic weapons and bump stocks.”
Another CDS student solicited signatures for a petition in support of gun control measures like mandatory background checks and closing the gun show loophole as part of an annual project from the eighth grade civics class.
“Every year the students pick a service project, something that’s going on in the country that they want to see changed, that they don’t want to see changed, something that they want to fight for,” explained teacher Terry Ashkinos. “This year after the Vegas shooting they were really motivated to do something about gun control. So they’ve been working on this issue and studying it since the end of September, and it just so happens that the whole country is now on the same page with us.”
In April, Ashkinos’ class will travel to Washington, D.C. to meet with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), at the Capitol building about gun reform.
“The fact that the whole zeitgeist of the country happens to be on the same page is amazing,” Ashkinos added. “The reality is it’s a student movement that’s really put this in the conversation.”
A mass of students from Everett Middle School also marched into Dolores Park, chanting, “Am I next?! Am I next?!” Despite the smiles on students’ faces, the question, if you stopped to consider it, was chilling.
At the front of one group, a teacher held a sign aloft in response to President Donald Trump’s suggestion that schools arm educators to protect against gun violence. “Arm me with books, pencils, paper, mental health resources and a livable wage … not guns!” it read. Mission High School students also walked out to commemorate the 17 killed in Parkland.
Brandon Rosas, a 17-year-old senior at Mission High, said he believed Wednesday’s marches would have an impact on lawmakers around the country. “If they don’t listen to us, then why are they there in the first place? They shouldn’t be there if they’re not going to listen to us.”
Fatima Anassa, 17, a classmate, agreed. “This isn’t just something you can ignore. It’s something you can’t ignore because people are dying, and people aren’t supposed to be dying,” she said. “If it takes us protesting and doing this [to make change], then I’m going to do it.”
“With the school shooting that happened in Florida, it’s kind of sad how it took that school shooting for people to actually protest,” Anassa added. “It should’ve happened before that shooting.”
It’s certainly happening now. Holding a sign with a cycle of violence that led from “mass shooting” to “thoughts and prayers,” social media debates, “everyone forgets,” “Congress does nothing,” “crickets chirping” and finally another mass shooting, CDS eighth grader Alondra Gil, 13, said she saw the protests as young people standing up for themselves. “We are more engaged than other people because we actually want to change more than the older people, who don’t want to change the government. We’re out here to protest. All of us have a reason to be out here, and my reason is to save innocent people’s lives.”
Even the high school students were impressed by the power of the scene, with students hoisting signs and chanting as a light rain fell in San Francisco.
“Those are middle school people right here, Rosas said, pointing to the crowd on the median earning honks from passing cars. “Middle school people are walking out of school around the whole nation. High school people. I know some college students are walking out. My sister, she’s at study abroad in France, and she’s walking out over there. So all of this impact is, like, huge. This is like a whole revolution we are making.”
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