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TUSD students walkout of class to protest gun violence
walkout pic1
Turlock High School junior Will Cooke reads the names of victims from school shootings during Wednesday's nationwide walkout to protest gun violence at schools. - photo by CANDY PADILLA/The Journal

A month after students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School ran for their lives from the hallways and classrooms where their peers were shot to death, Turlock Unified School District campuses throughout town joined in on the nationwide effort to walk in protest of gun violence.

The student-led national school walkout took place at 10 a.m. across all time zones on Wednesday, with all but three TUSD schools joining the swells of students that walked out of their classrooms across the country. Students gathered in solidarity for 17 minutes before returning to class – one minute for each life that was lost at Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14.

Turlock’s elementary schools participated in the walkouts, TUSD spokeswoman Marie Russell said, ranging from a couple of students at some sites to about 55 at Julien Elementary. Older students participated in greater numbers; at Dutcher Middle School, about 300 students met in the gym to listen to student speakers, while at Turlock Junior High, students congregated in the cafeteria.

As made evident by the coordinating efforts of teens across the country, however, it was the high schoolers that came out in full force Wednesday morning, both throughout America and in Turlock.

Hundreds of students filled the amphitheater at Pitman High School during the walkout, listening to student speakers and honoring the lives lost in Parkland, and at Turlock High, hundreds more staged a “lie-in” on campus, representing lives lost throughout the years due to gun violence. Many students participating in the walkouts wore orange shirts, as the color represents the fight against gun violence, and at PHS, students released 17 orange balloons into the sky.

PHS student speaker Makena Inghram asked when a change to the nation’s gun laws would be made, pointing to the 345 mass shootings that took place in the U.S. in 2017 according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“On average, that’s one mass shooting every single day,” Inghram said. “Shouldn’t we strive to honor our parents’ right to see their child come home at the end of the day, or your own right to come home at the end of the day?

“With that being said, we are standing here not to preach to you how guns should be banned from every household in America, or how guns are only used to slaughter people, but our gun laws in this country are unacceptable.”

NJROTC students at THS held a separate walkout of their own, flipping over a total of 17 chairs – one per minute – in honor of lives lost in Parkland. There was only one walkout at PHS, but counter protestors also made their way to the amphitheater, holding State of Jefferson flags, flags that read “Don’t tread on me,” and flags with the words “Come and take it” and a picture of a cannon.

“We’re not hating on anybody…that’s why we’re at the back and we’re not speaking. We’re just trying to say that no matter what, never try to infringe on people’s rights,” PHS junior and counter protestor Scott Alvarado said. “We shouldn’t act out of fear, we should act out of logic.”

Though there was an increased police presence at campuses on Wednesday, Russell said that no disciplinary action was taken at any of the walkouts within the school district as all were “peaceful and respectful.” Walkouts at each site were completely student-led, she added, and all happened organically.

This was the first major coordinated action of the student-led movement against gun violence, and THS junior and walkout coordinator William Cooke believes that social media has sparked a massive wave of activism at schools throughout the nation following the Parkland shooting.

“I think being able to see videos of kids on the ground, having been shot and crying in pain – that’s powerful,” he said. “Before, it was hard to put faces to names because it was just a list, so there was a disconnect. Now that’s gone, and social media has helped create these walkouts.

“I think that’s what this movement is about – what makes it unique is that kids are leading it this time.”

Students are already making a difference. In Florida, where students from Stoneman Douglas High and other schools had rallied in the state capital, the governor signed a bill last week that raised the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21 and extended the waiting period to three days.

Students have yet to make the same impact at a national level, but they appear to be determined. Two more nationwide protests are set to take place on March 24 and on April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine shooting.

“We shouldn’t feel safe with our current gun laws and we cannot sit around waiting for change,” Inghram said. “We are the future and we must make the change we want to see.”