On March 14, students all over the US organized school walkouts to show solidarity with the students in Parkland, Florida, and to protest for gun control. As so often happens with protests led by young people, there was a swell of negativity directed toward the event. Disregarding the comments made by hardcore NRA supporters who attacked the leader of the event, Emma González, and other survivors of the shooting that killed 17 people, people voiced complaints about the walkouts. The most popular response I saw was one that told students to “walk up, not out,” meaning that instead of holding a vigil to mourn for students who were killed or demanding change, students should instead approach peers who might be struggling with mental health issues or be lonely. I intend to dissect this response and unpack what it really tells students, as well as explain why it makes no sense as an alternative.
People love to call young generations lazy, ungrateful, and incompetent. There are countless videos of successful adults complaining that youths these days are unwilling to do any work, quite conveniently ignoring that fact that even if that were the case, it is the older generations who literally raised them to be that way. Of course, since they dismiss young people as lazy, many didn’t believe that it was truly the students organizing the walkouts, and they spread the conspiracy theory that the liberal left paid children and organized the event. People are so reluctant to accept the fact that young people aren’t as lazy as they would believe that they concocted a conspiracy theory, saying that the children on TV are paid actors or that liberal Democrats pressured kids into participating. Social media makes it incredibly easy to arrange and organize events; you can communicate quickly and effectively with a huge audience spread across the globe, even, and teenagers are very technologically savvy, for the most part. If anyone could use the Internet to create a protest, it wouldn’t be improbable to assume the organizers were teens. In addition, these adults seemed to reject the idea that teenagers organized the protests because they’re tired of feeling unsafe at school and in public areas. Apparently, it’s hard to believe that fearing for your life and safety could be a powerful motivator for young people to demand change on a national level.
There are quite a few people who opposed the walkouts from the minute they were publicized, simply because the walkouts were a call for the implementation of gun control measures. This was to be expected, and while I’m disappointed that people love their guns and the Second Amendment more than they want to protect others, I’m not surprised. They fear that if gun control measures are implemented to restrict purchasing age, sale of bump stocks, and semi-automatic weapons, the government might then decide to seize all guns from law-abiding citizens. However, as has been said so many times, that isn’t the goal. That isn’t why people, myself included, are calling for gun control; we just want to keep guns that are capable of mass destruction and mass murder out of the hands of people who do not need them, i.e. anyone whose job doesn’t entail the use of those weapons. By all means, keep your hunting rifles and handguns if they make you feel safe and they’re stored safely and properly. If they’re kept out of reach of children and stored in a way that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for anyone else to access them, guns aren’t really a problem.
The main point of the #WalkUpNotOut response is that students should be more caring towards their peers, and they shouldn’t interrupt their education to protest but should instead be kinder to others in the hopes that it will prevent another mass shooting. I always advocate for more kindness—the world can be a harsh place, and especially as a teenager, other people can seem cruel. However, telling students that their lack of kindness could be the reason that another student decides to commit mass murder is plain wrong. People should absolutely be kinder to each other, but by insinuating that being unfriendly to someone could result in murder, these respondents are implying that some part of the blame for a mass shooting lies with the people who were shot. “If they were nicer, maybe the kid wouldn’t have decided to murder them.” What part of that seems okay to tell a grieving child? Monitoring children’s mental health is not the duty of another child—it’s the responsibility of the adults caring for those children.
Imagine being a lonely kid in school, and one day, a couple of other kids start being friendly to you. It might be awesome, and maybe you feel like you have some new friends. Imagine how it would then feel to realize that they were being nice to you because they were terrified that you would bring a gun to school one day and murder people. Would that make you any less lonely? Would that make you any less resentful of your peers if you were resentful before that?
I’ve spoken with several people who don’t understand the point of doing a school walkout, especially at a school that’s generally speaking pretty liberal. This is a reasonable question to ask- why bother spending time talking to people who already agree with you? I have a few answers for this. First, one of the purposes of the walkout is to show solidarity with and respect for Parkland survivors and survivors of gun massacres in general, so to that extent, it doesn’t matter that the people in the walkout share similar views on gun control. Second, many of these walkouts were filmed or otherwise documented, so people not at those schools can see the support shown, even if they don’t agree with the walkouts. The size of the groups walking out is an indicator of the strength and resonance of the message’s importance, so the more people seen participating in the walkout, the more visible support the movement has and the more pressure it puts on people in government positions. Third, these walkouts provide a platform for students to share their reasons for wanting gun control. They can share their stories and add a personal facet that would otherwise be less heard, if at all. There’s something to be said for the power of knowing you are not alone and that you are not the only one calling for change.
Whether they agree with these walkouts or not, people are finally grappling with the consequences of refusing to bolster gun laws in the wake of yet another school shooting. The kids are scared and angry, and they’re demanding change. I’d recommend listening to them. Otherwise, when they get old enough to vote, they’re going to vote all of the politicians involved with the lack of change right out of office.
Main image from KMBZ.