The shrill cries of Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Emma González pleading into a microphone for gun reform — on the day after seventeen of her peers were massacred — are still echoing around the nation.
Inspired by her call, hundreds of Philly students are expected join classmates around the country in walking out of their classes on March 14, the one month anniversary of the shooting at in Parkland, Fla. The action will last 17 minutes for the 17 victims to protest gun violence and demand that Congress move on the issue.
One of the most striking things about the National School Walkout is how much young people have led the way — and spurred adults to action.
At Friends Central School in Wynnewood, Pa., more than 40 students were involved in organizing the walkout along City Avenue, senior Galen Cassidy told Billy Penn.
“Our planning started in February after a group of students returned from the Quaker Youth Leadership Conference and were interested in taking action to prevent gun violence,” Cassidy said. “They had an open meeting a couple weeks ago, and anyone who wanted to help in the planning was welcome.”
The same scenario likely played out at schools across the region, gaining momentum and reaching the ears of the longtime anti-gun violence advocates at CeaseFire PA.
“After Parkland, we’re seeing students take this all upon themselves, especially in the face of inaction from figures and representatives in public office,” said program director Jeff Dempsey.
Since Feb. 14, he said, CeaseFire PA has received a barrage of messages from young, promising advocates with plenty of feeling and lots to say, but little to no knowledge of where to begin.
To help the young organizers, his group last week released the CeaseFire PA Student Advocate Toolkit.
Over nine pages, the toolkit guides students through the process of effective, active advocacy, encouraging them to go beyond Instagram captions. The booklet includes a recent history of school shootings, sobering statistics on gun violence, and information on Pa.-specific bills and policies.
“Even though many students can’t vote quite yet, their voice counts,” Dempsey said, noting he’s even heard some elementary schools will be participating in the action. “Probably more than they think it does.”
Although some school districts in New Jersey have threatened punishment for students taking part in the walkout, most Philadelphia-area schools have been supportive. Philadelphia School District president William Hite has said participating students will not be disciplined for spending 17 minutes outside.
At Friends Central, the administration has been “100 percent behind us,” Cassidy said. She hadn’t yet heard about CeaseFire PA’s toolkit, but was interested to check it out after the walkout.
Asked the toughest part about organizing the action, Cassidy referenced only having to attend school “in a world where students and teachers are regularly the victims of gun violence. Everyone in America should have the right to a safe education.”
The anti gun violence actions don’t end with this one. Next up: CeaseFire PA will be sending a fleet of buses to Washington D.C. for the March For Our Lives rally on March 24, and there’s also a sister rally planned for Philadelphia on that day.