This year, Feb. 14 was not just another Valentine’s Day.
As a nation, we faced another tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 high schoolers were killed by domestic terrorist Nikolas Cruz. This made the debate surrounding gun control flare like never before, as the community within the high school took to the streets and podiums to demand change from their politicians and fellow Americans.
A call for a national school walkout was scheduled for March 14, exactly a month after the shooting in Parkland. The intent was to bring more attention to the call for stricter gun laws and to spend 17 minutes (starting at 10 a.m.) mourning the loss of the lives lost in the shooting. Many of the Florida students’ peers listened nationwide. No less than 185,000 students across America participated in the walkout. Many high schools even had deliberate participation led by teachers and staff.
This, unfortunately, was not the case in my Georgia high school.
From the get-go, we knew that the walkout was not condoned by the school board. They cited safety concerns and wanting continued instructional time. They offered instead discussions about civic responsibility in social studies classes and certain cafeterias on the day of the walkout. Unfortunately, myself and many others did not get this opportunity due to a block schedule where a core class is only taken for one semester, leading to an increased need to express my protests in a different manner.
The day of the walkout, students still attempted to participate in the walkout. As they left their classrooms, they were siphoned off into our cafeteria. Our very own principal was outside of my classroom redirecting students. Having been warned by the district and my parents of the apparent consequences of walking out, I developed a different method of showing my dissatisfaction with the lack of gun reform.
I took on the method used annually in April for the Day of Silence, a movement meant to raise awareness for bullying of the LGBTQ+ community. Instead of walking out of school (or being redirected into the cafeteria), I did not speak at all on March 14. The little communication in which I partook was via text or the whiteboard generously lent to me by my math teacher.
Despite being disallowed to do the national walkout with other high schoolers across the nation, my peers and I invoked discussion, regardless of ability to participate. Throughout the day, people asked me why I was not speaking. This happened at least ten times. My teachers supported me in my efforts, one even loaning me the whiteboard I used as my primary method of communication throughout the day.
My lunch table saw a great discussion on gun control and better methods of protesting, including the national March for Our Lives that then took place on March 24. Some of my friends said that a day of silence nationwide might make even more waves than the walkout did. Word about my silence spread to one of our middle schools in a discussion about civil disobedience and gun control in social studies class, which drew positive attention and was noted for its ingenuity.
Even though the school board did not allow us to protest outside, my personal, intentional day of silence called for a change nonetheless.