By Julia Proshan ‘18
Initially, it all seemed very concrete. No one wants there to be shootings in schools, and everyone feels frustrated, angry, and heartbroken by the recent string of tragedies. So, wouldn’t that mean that the walkout on March 14th was for everyone? Everyone acknowledges that there is a problem in America today; they simply have taken different stances on the exact way that problem should be solved. In that sense, the walkout was a unique way of demanding change, a unique moment of activism, that so many people at our school could get behind.
In the wake of the walkout, however, I’m left with some doubt. If we are going to group it with “activism,” then how was it activism? An activist is someone with a clear stance, a clear mission, but as I stood on the sidewalk, all I felt was confusion. I saw students much younger than I am across the street, marching west, holding up signs and chanting, and I felt their passion, their enthusiasm, and their frustration. All I wanted to do was to express those same feelings, but as I stood still and watched them, I felt helpless. I did not feel like I was in a space where it would be appropriate to yell with frustration. No one stopped the small group of Heschel students who began chanting, “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! The NRA has got to go,” and the call and response poem handed out implied a political statement. It even explicitly asked for changes in law, but something was missing. There was an invisible barrier that could not be broken down.
This did not feel like action. It was meant to disrupt the school day, but it was the calmest disruption I have ever experienced.
I felt more touched by the assembly than I did by the walkout. The assembly was emotional, the reading of the names powerful and truly somber. It was one of the few times we, the entire high school, gathered with the entire middle school. I felt myself fighting back tears by the end of it and was left truly speechless.
The assembly was the memorial, representing our sadness, but the walkout was meant to be the activism, expressing our anger, frustration, and disappointment with the current system. And yes, in some ways, the event was successful. It was truly touching the see the large turnout and the direct student involvement. But still, this was a crowd-pleasing walkout – it was Heschel’s unique approach, and I respect that, but that doesn’t change the fact that we could have done better. I needed a space to openly express what I was feeling, but I was held back.
I never would expect or ask the administration to back a walkout that does not align with the school’s mission regarding pluralism. However, there was a way for us to uphold our pluralistic principles while still taking a powerful stance. The walkout, if made explicitly pro-gun control, would not have to feel exclusive if there were other options, one option for those who were anti-gun control, one for those feeling conflicted or confused, and one for those who wanted to be left out of the conversation or simply wanted to have a memorial and leave politics out. In fact, there was one other option. A group of around 30 students who did not feel comfortable walking out or did not align with the political agenda they thought the walkout had took part in their own program inside the school. They moved away from debating the politics of the Parkland tragedy and instead had a somber discussion of how it impacted them and made them feel.
The walkout never needed to be watered down and never needed to be a midpoint between a memorial and a protest. It could have just been a protest. Perhaps not everyone would feel comfortable with something so intense, but if we provided an alternate event for those people, they would be able to find an outlet in which they could be comfortable. The concept of appreciating diversity of perspective has always been instilled within Heschel students, and offering multiple options still would have accomplished this goal. Instead of coming out in support of the walkout’s principles, the administration could have just come out in support of freedom of speech, explaining to parents the multiple options students of different political stances had to express their passionate beliefs and the respect they had for students who spoke out and stood up.
I do not doubt that the administration’s intentions for supporting the walkout were pure. The fact that Heschel wanted this walkout to bring our community together shows how nurturing of a school environment it is. Furthermore, I understand the necessity of the administration’s support as there were many obstacles, mostly security-related, we would not be able to overcome had we been in this alone. However, even if we did not want to come together, we still could have had the administration’s support.
Finally, I admire the incredible initiative of the students who planned the walkout, especially on such short notice. It is empowering to see the ability high school students have to organize an event like this, and it was as powerful as a non-partisan walkout could have been. At the end of the day, every walkout, whether in Georgia or in New York, was about students taking action, and this did exactly that.