A demonstration of some 2,000 students Wednesday at Bellingham schools began with an Instagram message about gun violence just two days after a gunman killed 17 people at a Florida high school.
“I just posted asking, ‘Hey, I’m having a walkout at school. Who’s interested?’ ” said Maggie Davis-Bower, a Squalicum High junior and herself a witness to a mass shooting.
In September 2016, Davis-Bower and her mother hid behind a counter at the Macy’s in Burlington as a gunman walked past, firing shots that killed five people in the Cascade Mall.
She and others who organized the rally said the violence must stop.
“We want people to open their eyes and see that there’s a problem,” said Destiny Reynolds, a Bellingham High freshman.
Students left classes at 11:22 a.m., the time the first shots rang out last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the Miami suburb of Parkland. They walked, car-pooled or drove from the district’s high schools to City Hall for the rally.
“We’re the next generation, we have to get involved,” said Will Barnes, a Bellingham High junior.
Just a day after Davis-Bower’s Instagram query, students from all four Bellingham high schools began meeting to discuss strategies for the Wednesday rally – part of a surging movement in the face of a horrific toll of American mass killings. Already, nationwide protests have been set for March 14, March 24 and April 20, which marks 19 years since the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado that sparked the modern surge of school shootings.
“Every revolution started like this,” said Noah Lovell, a Squalicum junior, as he helped make protest signs with about two dozen of his peers Tuesday at a student’s home. “The most effective weapons and tools to use is the grass roots. Our goal is just to get our schools’ attention.”
On Tuesday, student organizers discussed the walkout with school officials and got permits from the city – then notified police, local media and Seattle TV.
“This is getting a lot bigger,” said Sehome High sophomore Thomas Cassella. “Where’s this going to go? We’ve already seen a huge response.”
At the rally, students waved protest signs and danced to music like Sara Bareilles’ hit “Brave.” Organizers made short statements, and the crowd observed 3 minutes of silence in honor of the Parkland shooting victims.
“Seventy-two hours ago, none of this was happening,” said Bellingham High junior Harry Conover. “We’ve gathered here to add our voices to the growing chorus across the nation.”
Both Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville and schools Superintendent Greg Baker lent their support.
“We are proud of the students who are organizing this event and collaborating with their peers across the district to take action in something they believe in,” Baker said in a statement Tuesday. “We support students’ rights to have a voice in our democracy. Peaceful protest and advocacy can be part of a powerful learning experience.”
District spokeswoman Jackie Brawley said students who participate won’t be disciplined, but will be responsible for having their absences excused.
Lovell and other organizers said the Bellingham students have three immediate goals:
▪ For government to make it harder for some people to buy guns.
▪ For people to understand that more guns aren’t the answer to gun violence.
▪ For schools to address growing violence with concrete measures, such as metal detectors and self-defense education.
And they want more communication from school administrators and city leaders.
Students said the only training they get is regular lockdown drills that they ridiculed as ineffective. They were surprised – and comforted – to learn Tuesday that Bellingham Police and firefighters regularly train for “active shooter” situations in schools.
“We have to know what to do if we’re in danger,” Cassella said.
Squalicum junior Sheyla Turudija, who is considering a career in law enforcement, said she wants to see more public outreach from the school and police.
“All we’re told to do is get under our desks and hope for the best,” Turudija said.
“I feel there is a revolution in the making,” said Catherine Poubere, a Squalicum junior.
Sehome sophomore Ammaya Shaw attended for one reason: “Change,” she said. “Change is basically what’s driving all of us here. I want to feel safe at school.”