Several hundred students stood up, left their classrooms and gathered in the rain on Western Washington University’s campus Wednesday morning as part of a nationwide demonstration about gun violence, one month after a gunman killed 17 people at a high school in Florida.
A few of the students stayed on the ground for the entire 17 minutes, one minute for each life lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
John Bower, an ornithology professor whose daughter was a witness to the 2016 mass shooting at Cascade Mall in Burlington, urged the students to remain active and said the psychological effects of school shootings should be taken seriously.
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“This is about safety in schools, this is about guns, but it’s really about a lot more than that. It’s really about the anger and angst that high school students have about the state of this country,” Bower said as he stood on a picnic table and addressed the demonstrators. ”But if there’s one thing we can agree on, it’s that children should not be murdered in their schools.”
The demonstration, which came together about a week ago, was organized as a way to signal to leaders that students want change, said Mary Moeller, an economics student and one of the organizers for WWU Students Against Gun Violence.
Moeller, 21, said she was honored to stand in solidarity with victims of gun violence and that she planned to keep demonstrating until change happens.
“Every time one of these things happens, no one does anything and we don’t want that to happen this time. We want this to be the last time, even though there were shootings after the Parkland shooting, unfortunately. We’re sick of this, we’re done, and we’re going to keep putting pressure on the administration to do something,” Moeller said. “We’re absolutely overwhelmed by the turnout. I’m exhausted, I’m elated, I’m cold, I’m wet, but I’m full of hope because so many people turned out, even in the rain, because this is such an important cause.”
In addition to having a voter registration booth nearby, flyers were passed out that encouraged the crowd to call their legislators. During the demonstration, someone also wrote The White House phone number down in chalk.
The protest was supported by several campus groups, such as the Student Marketing Association, Young Democrats of WWU and the Critical Engagement Group of the department of Modern and Classical Languages, which helped students create signs in various languages.
Student Gabby Serrano said every time she goes to the mall, movie theater or enters a classroom, she looks for exits due to the possible threat of a shooting. Serrano, who wants to be a teacher, said she participated in the walkout as a way for her to take action.
“I know that every day you walk in, there could be a threat. And the students that you make connections with, it could be their last day if things like this keep continuing and that’s horrible,” Serrano said. “Any protest or way to get the people in power to take notice, we’ll do.”
Fellow student and future educator Elizabeth Logan echoed her sentiments, and said she showed up to support the students’ movement.
“It’s the kids that are having to act like adults and as a person who can vote and is older, it’s my job to support them in any way that I can. …Words are words, but actions are important,” Logan said. “This is their movement and we’re a part of it, not the other way around.”
Whatcom Community College had around 100 students and staff participate. Lynden High School had between 50 and 75 kids, and Blaine schools had a few students walk out.
Bellingham school district had around 800 students participate, with some meeting outside and others in the cafeteria or commons area. Several gave "short, thoughtful speeches," according to Jackie Brawley, a Bellingham Schools spokeswoman.
Bellingham Technical College also planned to hold walkouts. It was unclear whether students participated in Ferndale, although administrators didn't believe so.