‘Motivated to make change’: Students march for safe schools

Youth lead protest for gun reform and safe schools

Junior Caleb Kono holds a sign as he and other Lincoln students walk out of class on April 20, protesting for gun reform and student safety. The students marched to City Hall, and 20 students rode a bus to Salem to speak in front of Oregon legislators.

SALEM – ‘National School Walkout Day.’ ‘A Day of Action.’ ‘Columbine Anniversary.’ April 20 has been dubbed countless names for the past several months but they all convey one message: change.

Nineteen years ago, on April 20, two students entered Columbine High School in Colorado and killed 13 people and injured 21 others, ultimately committing suicide after their massacre. For 19 years, students, teachers, parents and faculty have mourned the losses and remembered. This tragedy created more momentum for a movement surrounding gun control.

This year on April 20 students stood up from classrooms and walked out of school saying ‘we will not live in fear of gun violence’ as they spread their message in over 2500 registered walkouts across the country.

Juniors Gabrielle Cosey, Carmen Vintro and Madeline Gochee partnered with the Never Again club to organize the Lincoln demonstrations. The three also partnered with the Bus Project, a local volunteer organization that aims to make democracy more accessible to Oregon citizens.

Leaders organized two opportunities for Lincoln students to demonstrate. A walkout of class was scheduled for 10 am school-wide and students met on the patio where they would then walk to Portland City Hall. At the protest at Portland City Hall, Mayor Ted Wheeler spoke to the students, offering support and admiration.

The organizers also coordinated busing to Salem where students would participate in a town hall discussion with representatives of the Oregon legislature.

Cosey, Vintro and a student from Clackamas organized the Salem town hall meeting that attracted students from all over the state. A reservation was needed to use the steps of Oregon’s capitol building.

Lincoln sophomore Haley Zane hoped the march would focus on the race aspect of gun violence and the differentiation of mental illness vs mass shootings in conversations about gun control. Zane also emphasized that “guns escalate violence” in all scenarios where a gun is involved.

I feel like not enough is being done on an adult level and this is the best I can do which is frustrating because I can’t vote.

— Junior Vivian Urness, Protest Organizer

In Salem, students were given the opportunity to speak, as their words blared across the capitol building, attracting onlookers in their wake. Speeches and poetry were performed in the gathering of students who held signs reading “The NRA can’t buy my voice” and “Your right to a hobby shouldn’t trump my right to live.”

Students were also given the opportunity to have a town hall with Oregon legislators who supported gun control reform. A Q&A was conducted and a broad spectrum of issues involving guns were discussed.

Oregon congresswoman Ginny Burdick participated in the discussion about gun control legislation, bringing up the problems in the Oregon senate about passing legislation. “There’s a big factor of people just not wanting to deal with the issue,” said the senator. The senator also discussed supporters of gun control. “The school districts have always been wonderful with [the gun control] issue. The teachers union has been wonderful. The school boards have been wonderful. It’s just when you go to a political process things get more complicated.” Senator Burdick’s district covers Northwest and Southwest Portland.

At the end, students presented a ten point action plan that called for a ban on assault weapons, a ban on bump stocks and raising the minimum age to buy a gun in Oregon to 21. The group then took photo in front of the capitol to commemorate the historic day.

Around 20 students from Lincoln made the trip to Salem. One student who brought her message to the discussion was Vivian Urness, a Lincoln junior. “I feel like not enough is being done on an adult level and this is the best I can do which is frustrating because I can’t vote,” said Urness.

During the march, some students chose to stay in school or were barely given the option to leave campus. Some teachers strongly encouraged students to stay in school, giving students an ultimatum by assigning work that couldn’t be made up, while others moved tests and assignments to accommodate students’ decisions in taking part in the school-wide walkout.

Other states have taken a back seat to passing gun control legislation but Oregon has taken steps. On March 5 2018, Kate Brown signed House Bill 4145 also known as the boyfriend loophole bill. This measure ensured that guns could be taken away from individuals who had domestically abused or stalked their victims who they were intimately involved with. Introduced by the governor, the bill passed the Oregon legislature with bipartisan support proving that progress on gun control is possible.

Despite the powerful momentum of student activism, a negative connotation has overshadowed the day. April 20th, when referred to as 4/20, is synonymous with a day honoring marijuana. But this number didn’t stop students. Vintro describes the pushback for using this date as “patronizing and belittling.”

During the demonstration in Salem Cosey and Vintro were filmed for a documentary produced by Blue Chalk Media. The documentary will be produced for Pearson, an education company that produces and distributes textbooks. The documentary will highlight student activism and will be integrated in college curriculums.  

“We are here not only to stand in solidarity with the hundreds of gun violence victims of all ages but to make our voices be heard again and again and again until there is legislative change,” said Vintro.