Behind the Scenes of the March 14 Walkout

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At 9:55 am on Wednesday, March 14, a number of students will leave their classes to stand in the courtyard in silence for seventeen minutes.

The walkout is a protest in support of stricter gun legislation and meant to honor the seventeen victims of the Marjory Stonemean Douglas (MSD) shooting in Parkland, Florida a month prior. Students from all four local high schools, several local middle and elementary schools, and a number of other schools across the country will participate.

Plans for the CHCCS protest began four days after the Parkland shooting as a combined effort between local parents and high school students. Since then, however, it has been almost entirely student run.

“We have adult support, but we plan these meetings; we make sure people show up; we organize the roles,” said Ella Atwater, a CHS senior who has worked alongside roughly 30 other local high school students to plan the walkout.

Jonah Perrin, one of the coordinators of the Carrboro walkout, echoed Atwater.

“All of the speakers will be students; everything related to the protest will be student run,” said Perrin.

Perrin thinks being student-led will give the movement a fresh perspective.

“Adults have had this in their hands for a long time…it’s about time for the students to step up because [the adults] lost their chance,” said Perrin.

Max Poteat, a sophomore and leader from East Chapel Hill High agrees. He also sees this movement as indicative of a larger trend.

“It shows how powerful students can be and that the next generation of voters is eager to get involved,” said Poteat.

Even though the teenagers organized and will run the the walkout, they have worked closely with adults in the town police departments and school administrations to make the protest safe and effective. Each participating school will see increased police presence during the walkout, and students will not be counted as absent if they choose to participate.

“The administration has been really helpful,” said Jackson Asarso, senior and leader at Carrboro alongside Jonah Perrin and Class President Niya Fearrington. “It would have happened with or without their cooperation, but it’s going to be a lot more safe and have a lot more impact [because of them].”

The protest will largely be silent, except to read the name of one of the Parkland victims every minute. There will also be spoken word poetry as students are walking out of the building.

Two of the movement’s organizers have personal connections to the issue of gun violence. Perrin’s cousin attends MSD (she was not injured in the shooting,) and Charlotte Ellis, sophomore, lived one town over from the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting when she was in fifth grade.

Most, however, think that gun violence is relevant to almost everyone.

“I feel like anyone could have been in the situation of the Florida students, and it’s just our luck that we weren’t,” said Anna Kemper, senior.

Paloma Baca, junior, agreed and lamented the partisan division the issue has been subject to recently.

“Gun violence doesn’t stop at party lines,” said Baca.

The students outlined six goals for the protest, including to honor the seventeen lives lost in Parkland, to persuade legislators to reflect the values of their constituents, and to advocate for certain policy changes: universal background checks, a federal minimum age to purchase a gun, a ban on civilians owning weapons of war, and school safety protocol that does not involve arming teachers. Many students resonate with some of these goals in particular.

“For me, the main thing is having enforced background checks because there are a lot of reasons people shouldn’t have guns,” said Atwater. “A lot of control about guns is left up to the states … in order for everyone to be safe it should be the federal government’s job.”

Other goals are more broad.

“I’m a student, and I want to go to school every day and feel safe,” said Kemper.

Still others see the walkout as part of a growing movement.

“[The protest] is about teenagers being able to mobilize and being able to change their country, their state, their town, for the better,” said Baca.

Fearrington agreed, and she hopes CHCCS students can continue to use their influence to advocate for other causes.

“I think this is setting a precedent for the things all the high schools can do together in terms of advocating [against] more than just gun violence,” said Fearrington

While they have high hopes for the impact of the March 14 walkout, the students also stressed the importance of keeping the movement alive after the protest is over.

Specifically, they are organizing a group to participate in the nationwide March For Our Lives protest on March 24 in Washington, DC. For more information about that initiative, contact Jackson Asaro.

CHCCS students plan the March 14 walkout at Youthworx in Carrboro. Photo by Caitlin Grubbs, 11 (CHHS)