If you haven't heard about the March 14th Walk Out protest that took place in high schools all across the country, you may be living under a rock. The protest was posted all over social media and shared hundreds of times by passionate students in high schools from coast to coast. It was truly a movement and, like all movements before it, caused a lot of conversation and controversy amongst political parties, parents and really anyone who heard about it.
The Walk Out was organized by the organizers of the Women's March to push for gun reform and to honor students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school; the school where a month before, 17 students and faculty members were killed in cold blood by a shooter. Since that event the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas spoke on national television in front of their peers and superiors alike, begging for stricter gun laws and citing the deaths of their friends and teachers as the reason why. Those senseless deaths deserved not to be in vain. On March 14th, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas walked out of their classes for 17 minutes - in honor of the 17 lives lost that day and to shout their message of stricter gun control loud and clear. These students were not the only ones who did so; thanks to social media, the Walk Out was shared on all platforms and students across the country united with their peers to honor the victims and ask that something be done to prevent more senseless acts of violence in our nation's schools. Despite being something these students felt strongly about, their act was the topic of much controversy in America; the topic of gun control is an incredibly divisive and partisan issue, and these students made sure it was clear what side they were on.
For one teacher in Oak Hall, Virginia, this Walk Out was not the answer. Many people were against the idea, claiming that students were only using it as an excuse to get out of class or to draw attention to themselves rather than the issue it was protesting. This sixth-grade teacher's counter to the movement quickly went viral, prompting more conversation and argument.
At first glance, the message is obvious and innocuous; it's blatantly clear that many of the perpetrators of school shootings in the past have cited mental illness or bullying as the reason they felt compelled to do what they did. The purpose behind the Walk Up Not Out campaign is to fix that, to spread kindness in our schools and hopefully derail a plan of mass murder by inviting someone to sit at your lunch table. It's not a revolutionary idea.
The problem with this campaign becomes clearer the longer you think about it. It is, in essence, victim shaming. By telling students that "just be[ing] nice" is all they need to do, the message of these killings being the students' fault that people feel the need to shoot up schools comes out pretty clearly. Even if this was not the intention of this counter-campaign, that is what is has become.
As a person who has grown up with and around mental illness, and has been in a high school where I saw and have firsthand experience with kids not being so nice to each other, I have never felt the need to grab a gun and take it with me to exact revenge on my peers. I know plenty of people that I went to high school with and connected with later who were bullied, by definition, who ate lunch alone, who never had partners for projects... None of these people ever thought that murdering their classmates was an answer to their problems. While it does seem like a cop out when these cases come to light, the underlying factor of extreme mental illness can not be smiled away. A person who feels the need to kill people is not going to lose that need by eating lunch with other students.
This epidemic of school shootings needs to come to an end. All of the students who walked out of their classrooms in protest of senseless violence, all of the students who are scared to go to school because what if they're next?, and all of the parents who now have to worry that maybe their child won't come home from somewhere they're supposed to be safe know this. Stricter gun control is a huge issue, one that will not be solved easily, but the conversation has to start somewhere. These students are our future, they will be voting in the next election, they will be voting at their state and local levels; these students have something to say and a whole lot of fire behind it.
Walk Up Not Out may very well have been started solely to undermine these students, but it is not a lost cause. These students are walking up to each other every day, talking about their futures and what they can do to ensure they see them. These students are walking up to the voting podiums, making choices to make sure they have the representation that will most showcase their ideals. These students are walking out of their classes to make sure their voices are heard, but they are walking up every day, to make their voices mean something.
Regardless of if you are for or against gun control, it is hard to argue that these students are not making a difference. They are starting the conversation and fighting for their own peace of mind. The kids are our future, and they're making sure we know it.