The National School Walkout is students’ most ambitious gun violence protest yet

Walking out.
Walking out.
Image: Reuters/Carlos Barria
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Students across the US are again abandoning their classrooms Friday (April 20) to protest gun violence as part of the National School Walkout.

The nationwide demonstration is happening only a few weeks after thousands of students walked out on March 14 for 17 minutes, one minute for each victim of the February school shooting rampage at a Parkland, Florida, high school. Already, it’s clear that this walkout is more ambitious in its scope and goals.

“This is a topic that deserves more than 17 minutes,” Lane Murdock, the Ridgefield, Connecticut, student who orchestrated the protests, told NPR.

The latest rally, which falls on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting in Colorado, was designed to last the whole day. Organizers also came up with a detailed guide to turn the energy from the marches into policy changes. It includes advice such as having speakers spell out what they want from lawmakers—for example, killing an NRA-backed bill that would make concealed-carry permits from one state valid in others—and giving specific suggestions about how people can help the cause. The guide also recommends turning the protests into voter registration drives.

“It’s important to capitalize on the energy that people are feeling right now, and to make sure that we don’t let it dissipate,” the organizers write in the guide.

The high school students behind the National School Walkout also have the backing of professional grown-up organizers. Indivisible, a group created after Donald Trump’s election to push progressive causes, helped the teenagers build a map to register participating schools. More than 2,500 signed on. The American Civil Liberties Union is also offering the students legal advice.

Actors Julianne Moore and Robert De Niro contributed with excuse letters that students could present to skeptical school administrators.

Getting adults involved is a key step in getting Congress to pay attention to the students’ demands. But the student activists have plenty of PR savvy on their own. Emma González, a Parkland student who has emerged as a leader of the anti-gun-violence movement, chose to don orange prison fatigues.

(Orange also happens to be the color the movement has chosen to represent its cause.)

Justin Blackman, a 16-year-old student who got national media coverage for being the only one at his North Carolina school to walk out during last month’s protest, was in the spotlight again, this time for a different reason.

The bigger crowd at his school is at least one sign that the protests are working.