Thousands of students across the country, including in Los Angeles, briefly walked out of their schools Wednesday urging Congress to enact gun-control measures after the deadly mass shooting in Parkland, Fla.
Organized by Empower, the youth arm of the Women’s March movement, the walkouts are the latest show of activism by young people who are now wading into the gun-control debate. The involvement by youth has re-energized advocates for gun control measures who have struggled to pass legislation nationally, most notably after the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre.
At Santa Monica High School, thousands of students left their classrooms and huddled on the football field for the 17-minute walkout, to commemorate the 17 lives lost during the Florida shooting. Other schools across southern California also participated, including in Orange County and San Diego.
Viacom’s channels went dark for 17 minutes in solidarity with the walkouts. The company announced a number of other initiatives, and its board vice chair, Shari Redstone, is contributing $500,000 toward the March for Our Lives on March 24. Those demonstrations will take place in Washington DC and other major cities.
Students also walked out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the site of the mass shooting last month that resulted in the death of 14 students and three staff members. David Hogg, one of the Parkland students who survived the shooting, live-streamed the walkout on his YouTube channel.
Students clutched signs that read “I should be writing my college essay, not my will.” Others read “Enough is enough.”
Celebrities on Twitter expressed their support for the demonstrations, including Chris Evans, Miley Cyrus, Zendaya, and Kerry Washington. In New York, Whoopi Goldberg joined students in their walkout. Students in Washington D.C. also demonstrated.
“We will not sit in classrooms with armed teachers. We refuse to learn in fear. We reject turning our schools into prisons,” Matt Post, a senior at Sherwood High School, which is part of Montgomery County Public Schools, said at a rally on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. “We will accept nothing less than comprehensive gun control, and if it is what it takes, we will shame our policy makers into protecting us.”
Brenna Levitan of Montgomery Blair High School called for “unrelenting advocacy.”
“We have a voice, and we will not be silent,” Levitan said.
The students were joined by a number of other speakers from D.C. area schools participating in National Walkout Day. At the west side of the Capitol, they were joined by top Democrats including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
“You are creating a drumbeat across America, a drumbeat that will echo until we get the job done,” Pelosi told the crowd, which numbered more than 1,000.
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) recalled his experience as a leader of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee during the civil rights era of the 1950s and 60s, and how important it was for the students to know that “you must never give up, never give in,” adding that, “Whatever you do, do it in an orderly, peaceful, nonviolent fashion.”
Two years ago, in the wake of the Pulse Nightclub shooting massacre in Orlando, Fla., Lewis was among the lawmakers who participated in a 26-house sit-in on the floor of the House “trying to get the Speaker and the leadership in the majority to bring a bill to deal with gun violence. We may have to sit in again.”
Some students went to the White House and sat on the closed-off portion of Pennsylvania Avenue for a 17-minute moment of silence, to mark the one-month anniversary of the 17 people killed in the Parkland, Fla. school shooting massacre. They sat on the street with their backs to the executive mansion.