At least 2,500 schools across the country are bracing for a massive walkout of students, teachers and their allies on Wednesday, March 14, exactly one month after the deadly Marjory Stoneman Douglas High shooting in Parkland.
The coordinated walkouts will take place at 10 a.m. local time, including in South Florida, where at least 18 high schools and colleges from Wellington to Miami plan to honor the 17 teenagers and teachers killed in the Parkland massacre. Students also plan to brandish protest signs and press lawmakers for stricter gun-control laws.
Although demonstrations have sprung up at schools often since the Feb. 14 shooting, the idea behind this walkout originated with Empower, the youth arm of the annual Women’s March. The “#Enough Walkout,” as organizers call it, started as a Facebook event but quickly grew in popularity.
“Students and staff have the right to teach and learn in an environment free from the worry of being gunned down in their classrooms or on their way home from school,” the group states on its website. “Parents have the right to send their kids to school in the mornings and see them home alive at the end of the day.”
The Women’s March website calls for a 17-minute walkout, one minute for each of the 17 people killed in the shooting, and for protesters to wear orange. For students’ safety, the website asks adults not affiliated with the walkout schools to avoid protesting with students.
Ellie Branson, a 16-year-old junior at South Broward High School in Hollywood, is planning a joint protest at the K.C. Wright Administration Building in Fort Lauderdale with students representing nine Broward schools: South Broward, MacArthur and Hollywood Hills in Hollywood; Blanche Ely and Pompano Beach High in Pompano Beach; Atlantic Technical College and Coconut Creek High in Coconut Creek; Piper in Sunrise; and Fort Lauderdale High.
Branson is expecting more than 100 South Broward students, plus hundreds more when they assemble in Fort Lauderdale.
“We’re collaborating with other schools because there’s more strength in numbers and a better chance for our voices to be heard,” says Branson, who expects the walkout to last most of Wednesday. “It’s going to be more of a rally than a walkout. We’ll have signs and we’ll be chanting.”
This isn’t Branson’s first school protest since the Stoneman Douglas shooting. She organized a Feb. 20 passive walkout at South Broward High in solidarity with the victims, joining similar South Florida demonstrations. The message then is the same now, Branson says: to demand better gun control, including universal background checks before gun sales, better safety for students and a ban on assault weapons.
“We should listen to kids, because we’re going to be the people voting in the next election, and running in the next election in 2020,” Branson says. “By legislators not listening, what they’re doing is teaching us that our voices don’t matter. But they do.”
To help students prepare for the walkouts, Women’s March organizers have provided downloadable “tool kits,” which include sample letters to school officials to let them participate, along with an explanation of students’ rights.
Susana Matta Valdivieso, a 17-year-old junior at Stoneman Douglas, is planning a rally-style walkout at 10 a.m. Wednesday, starting at the school and ending at nearby North Community Park in Coral Springs. She expects 400 students in attendance, including two Stoneman Douglas speakers and kids from West Glades Middle in Boca Raton.
“Many people will have signs,” says Valdivieso, who expects her rally to run two hours and focus on gun control. “Stoneman Douglas is very secure with policemen, so it will be hard for students to walk out.”
Meanwhile, Joymarie Puskadi, a student at NSU University School in Davie, told the Sun-Sentinel that said she and a few friends are planning a day-long protest, which will begin at a Davie Wal-Mart at 9:30 a.m. and end 17 miles later at Stoneman Douglas.
While students are taking measures to ensure the walkouts are organized and safe, Broward County Public Schools officials say they encourage, and “won’t interfere with,” the student-led protests. The district also said school principals and staff will accompany the walkouts. “BCPS supports our students’ rights to make their voices heard and encourages peaceful and lawful protests only,” Tracy Clark, a district spokeswoman, wrote in an email.
“We are proud of our students’ focus and determination to turn their grief and outrage into action,” Superintendent Robert W. Runcie wrote in a prepared statement. “Such occasions are teachable moments, during which students can demonstrate their First Amendment right to be heard.”
Students with West Broward High School’s Student Government Association are trading a walkout on Wednesday for a peaceful assembly. The event at the Pembroke Pines school will feature members of student clubs promoting issues such as gun safety, ways to contact local lawmakers and fundraisers for Stoneman Douglas students.
Donna Yard, a Student Government Association advisor who helped organize the event, says empowering students with on-campus activities is safer than a walkout.
“Not everyone necessarily believes in the same gun fight or [shares the same] thoughts of how guns should be managed,” Yard says. “So instead of all fighting for that, they can fight for something else.”
After the national walkout, student activists and their supporters will turn their attention to the March for Our Lives protests in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere and to another national walkout on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting in Colorado.