In brief, powerfully emotional events, thousands of students at dozens of schools across New Jersey walked out of class at 10 a.m. to lift their voices on the one month anniversary of the school shooting massacre in Parkland, Florida that claimed 17 lives. Teens marched against gun violence in Linden chanting, “Never again!”
They grieved for the dead at Barringer High School in Newark, where teens and officials stood silently and released balloons for each victim.
Some Barringer students, like Destiny Vega, fear gun violence.
“It makes me terrified,” she said. “If this would happen to my school, I have a brother who goes here. If something would happen to him, I don’t know what I would do.”
“Guns ruin people’s lives and I believe they shouldn’t be around. All they do is take people’s lives and those kids had goals that they wanted to fulfill,” said another Barringer student.
“Make no mistake, this action today is against gun violence, is against the proliferation of guns in our community, against the U.S. government’s inability, Congress’s inability to pass sensible gun legislation,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.
A crowd, perhaps a thousand strong, gathered behind Livingston High School and read poems.
“You know, although you’re young, you have a voice. I don’t think anyone should lose faith in democracy,” said Livingston High School student Ben Asher.
“We are at a time in history when our voices are so important to creating change. We have the power to shape the world we want to live in,” said another Livingston student, Rachael Mintz.
“We feel like we’re not being heard, as of now, by politicians. Hopefully, this can lead to some kind of legislative action, federally,” said Livingston student Richard Kim.
“If the adults in this world aren’t making any change, then it has to be up to us,” said Mary Yang, also a Livingston High School student.
The politics of gun control can be divisive, but school officials here helped students organize an event that focused more on expression than partisanship.
“I think teaching our kids to stand up for what they believe in, to be willing to fight the good fight, and have some perseverance is really a great skill for this next generation to have,” said Livingston Public Schools Superintendent Christina Steffner.
Not every district agreed, including Woodbridge and Sayreville, which cited safety risks and threatened students who walked out with two-day suspensions. Sayreville sophomore Rosa Rodriguez was the only student who dared leave the building. The ACLU of New Jersey has offered Rodriguez legal aid.
“When they are threatening people with punishment for political speech that’s really concerning,” said the organization’s executive director, Amol Sinha. “We have the backs of the students. We are going to monitor enforcement. We are going to monitor discipline. … They should not be disciplining students harsher, simply because their speech is political.”
The walkouts were only one in a series of events that are planned. In ten days, students and activists will gather in Washington, D.C. and across the nation for an event called, “March for Our Lives” for gun control, where millions are expected to attend.