MARCH 14, AT 10 a.m., thousands of students in schools across the Bay Area stood up and walked out of class. From Foothill High in the East Bay to Everett Middle School in San Francisco, and from Menlo Atherton on the Peninsula to Terra Linda in the North Bay, students from these and dozens of other schools around the bay participated in the National School Walkout.
According to organizers, an estimated 185,000 people in 50 states at over 3,100 schools across the nation participated in the walkout in an unprecedented show of youth outrage and activism around gun violence in our country.
Without a doubt, the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead and 17 injured was yet another devastating moment in the chronology of mass shootings in the United States. The 19-year-old gunman had a long history of emotional and disciplinary problems and had easily purchased the automatic weapon that ended the lives of students and school officials. The tragedy, one of already 18 school gun-related incidents in 2018, seems to have been the final straw for students like Marin Academy senior Adam Friedman, who has become a vocal leader in the post-Parkland youth gun control movement. Students across the country and the county are following the lead of outraged Florida survivors by taking things into their own hands; in their view, adults have not done enough to protect them from assault weapons.
“The Parkland shooting was a catalyst for action after a long stagnant reaction to gun violence prevention in America,” says Friedman, who has been working on gun violence prevention for years, participating regularly in Everytown for Gun Safety, Moms Demand Action and Do Not Stand Idly By events. “It has been a very productive time of action that came out of something very terrible.”
Across the country, students like Friedman have participated in protests, carrying signs saying “Protect children, not guns” and “We want education, not fear of annihilation.” The young Parkland activists have received millions of dollars in support from celebrities such as George and Amal Clooney and Oprah Winfrey and have orchestrated the national school walkouts that took place on March 14 and the March For Our Lives that took place on March 24 in Washington, D.C,, and state capitals across the country. A second school walkout happened on April 20, the 20th anniversary of the Columbine, Colorado, school shooting, to keep attention focused on government actions. Simultaneously, students have pressured businesses with ties to the NRA, and companies such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, REI and Delta Airlines have severed ties with the NRA and with suppliers who work with the NRA.
“These Florida teenagers and the student activists across the country are breaking through the stagnation and it’s incredibly inspiring,” says Jen Reidy, former Marin County chapter leader for Moms Demand Action for Gun Control, who now works for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “This is what momentum feels like.”
In Marin, local middle and high school students have organized, protested, spoken on radio, created email campaigns and captured the attention of local representatives. The day after the shooting in February, upset sixth graders at Lagunitas Middle School wrote so many emails to U.S. Representative Jared Huffman that he showed up in their class the next day to pledge his commitment to gun control bills. Adam Friedman took part in a panel of Bay Area students on KQED’s Forum to talk about the movement’s goals.
“We are looking for tangible actions: Brady background checks, empowering police officers and the FBI to intervene when an individual is seen as dangerous, and a national ban on assault weapons,” Friedman says. “And on the ground level here in the Bay Area I am working with a coalition of teens. We now have 25 to 30 schools involved to ensure voter education and registration efforts accompany walkouts and marches.”
Friedman, who has turned 18, says he is “very excited” to vote in the upcoming elections. He helped orchestrate Marin Academy’s approach to the March 14 walkout: voter registration for juniors and seniors and letter-writing campaigns for freshmen and sophomores. “We live in an era defined by the issue,” he says, “and it is our generation’s issue to fix. We’re saying enough is enough and taking a stand now.” Marin County Sheriff Robert Doyle expressed support for the walkout, saying in a press release, “We are proud to see our youth leading these efforts and we support the ultimate goal of keeping our schools and our communities free from gun violence.”
Almost without exception, local schools have also been supportive of the young people’s activities. “Students are concerned and teachers are concerned as well,” says Novato High’s Jennifer Marsh Russell, the 2017 Marin County Teacher of the Year; faculty and staff want to create a sense of safety on campus, she adds. Since the Parkland shooting, the Marin County Office of Education has held “school shooter safety” courses. Teachers are spending money on things like magnets they can use to automatically lock classroom doors from the inside if they cannot find their keys during a lockdown. “It is scary and it is heavy on everybody’s mind,” Russell says. “It’s terrible that [kids] have to deal with this, that it is part of their narrative. And it is terrible that this is what we teachers and school districts need to spend time and money on.”
This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition under the headline: “The Kids Are All Right“.
Kirsten Jones Neff is a journalist who writes about all things North Bay, with special attention to the environment and the region’s farmers, winemakers and food artisans. She also works and teaches in school gardens. Kirsten’s poetry collection, When The House Is Quiet, was nominated for the Northern California Book Award, and three of her poems received a Pushcart nomination. She lives in Novato with her husband and three children and tries to spend as much time as possible on our local mountains, beaches and waterways. For more on her work visit KirstenJonesNeff.Com.