In the wake of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) in Parkland, Florida that left 17 students and faculty members dead, survivors of the shooting galvanized a national movement demanding gun reform.
Exactly one month later, on Wednesday March 14, students at Stanford and in Palo Alto joined others around the country in a nationwide walkout for gun control.
At 10 a.m., Stanford students gathered in front of Green Library for a rally in coordination with #Enough, an initiative organized by the Women’s March Youth Empower group. The rally was planned to last 17 minutes, in honor of the 17 people who died in the Parkland shooting, Hundreds of students in attendance chanted “We want change! Let the youth speak!” and “Ban assault rifles!”
Dominick Hing ’20, who spoke at the rally, attended MSD when he was a high school student. Hing declared that, as part of the Never Again movement, the group started by about 20 MSD students in the wake of the shooting, he and his friends “are going to do exactly what Stoneman Douglas taught [them] to do: change the world.”
“The gun lobby has bought out our politicians, but we’ll never stop fighting them,” Hing said. “We’re going to see them at the ballot boxes, in their offices and around the country at the March for Our Lives on March 24…We’re going to tell them, loud and proud, that our lives are not for sale.”
Chloe Stoddard ’21, a co-organizer of the walkout who also organized the Women’s March at Stanford in January, emphasized that the walkout stands against all gun violence, not just the Parkland shooting.
“We are tired of how gun violence disproportionately affects communities of color, women, the LGBTQIA community and other marginalized groups,” Stoddard said. “We are here to make our voices heard and to call upon our representatives to enact real and sustainable change.”
The walkout was co-sponsored by the Black Student Union, the Stanford branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Stanford American Indian Organization, MEChA (Stanford’s oldest Chicano/Latino community organization), the Jewish Student Association, the Muslim Student Union and the Asian American Student Association. Many of the students who spoke did so as representatives of these various campus cultural organizations.
“I would like to thank the youth, especially these incredible high schoolers who are leading a national movement in favor of gun control and removing the stranglehold of gun lobbyists on our nation’s politicians,” said Kojoh Atta ’20, co-chair of the Black Student Union’s political action committee and chair of the 19th Undergraduate Senate. “The act at Marjory Stoneman Douglas was an absolute tragedy and a travesty, and it both pains and frustrates me to say that this is not something new.
Atta expressed his belief that gun violence has a disproportionate effect on black individuals.
“When states fail to pass laws that effectively restrict access to illegal guns and instead enact laws to make it easier to buy and carry guns,” Atta added, “they fail to sufficiently value black lives and the lives of other Americans adversely affected by gun crimes and violence. Thoughts and prayers are not enough.”
Ciani Green ’18, president of the Black Student Union, said she was disappointed by the protest’s turnout.
“It was still a lot of people — maybe almost 300 — which is phenomenal,” she said. “But … my high school has way less people with us and I’m pretty sure they had more people out there. That kind of made me upset.”
However, Green said the event itself was “inspiring,” adding that she was heartened to see enthusiasm from her peers who wanted to continue the political organization after the walkout.
“That’s always the goal. The rally is just [to raise] awareness, and getting actual action after is what we aim to do,” Green said.
For Marisol Zarate ’19, co-president of MEChA, gun violence is a personal issue. At the walkout she spoke about the impact of the San Bernardino shooting in 2015 on her hometown.
“I didn’t care about gun violence until it affected me, and I saw how it affected others,” Zarate said. “The end of gun violence can begin when it comes to your city, when it happens to your relatives, when your aunt is calling home frantically wondering why the hell everyone here is so damn complacent.”
Both Stoddard and Zoe Goldblum ’18, another co-organizer of the walkout, emphasized that activism surrounding gun reform should remain an active presence on campus beyond the walkout itself.
“I don’t want this to be the end,” Goldblum said. “I want this conversation to continue on Stanford’s campus. Whether that’s by starting a [voluntary student organization] or working to see what we as an institution can do to prevent gun violence, I think that there are a lot of things we can consider, and I look forward to taking the next steps.”
Members of Stanford in Government were also present at the walkout, where they helped students register to vote. When Matt Deitsch —who graduated from MSD in 2016 and who, at 20 years old, is the oldest founding member of the Never Again movement— spoke at Stanford on Monday, he stressed voting as the best way to enact meaningful change surrounding gun control.
“We have a march in almost every congressional district in this country right now,” said Deitsch. “To say that and to have that is awesome, but there’s voter registration at all of these marches… after this march we’re going to be going around the country registering people to vote, getting communities to be more educated on this issue, and making this the issue going into the ballot box.”
Green cited voter registration as a key action item on the movement’s agenda going forward, adding that the voter registration booths at the event were an important step toward increasing civil political participation.
“We’re hoping that more people get registered so when these types of laws come up we can vote against them…. Right now, that’s the biggest way of making an impact,” Green said.
Student activism in Palo Alto
Students from nearby Palo Alto High School (Paly) and Castilleja School also held demonstrations Wednesday morning, forming part of the nationwide walkout movement led by thousands of high school students. Hundreds of students gathered on the corner of Embarcadero and El Camino, where they rallied in support of gun control amid honks of support from morning commuters.
Much of the students’ rhetoric focused on maintaining the momentum of the current wave of gun control support. Warren Wagner, a junior at Paly who helped organize the walkout, emphasized the power he sees in this grassroots movement.
“No matter what the skeptics say, everybody here needs to make their voice heard if we want our democracy to work,” Wagner said. “So next time anyone tries to silence your voice because you’re just a kid, or because marching doesn’t do anything, then you must be doing something right.”
Wagner cited the recently-passed Florida law that raises the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21 and allows some teachers to carry arms as an example of the movement’s influence.
Lucy Carlson, a senior at Castilleja, echoed Wagner’s enthusiasm as she addressed the crowd.
“Those [Parkland] students have given us an opportunity,” Carlson said. “We need to take advantage of this opportunity — we can’t let this just be a moment in a history textbook that’s a footnote.”
The walkout hit particularly close to home for event organizer and Paly senior Louisa Keyani.
“I know someone who goes to MSD, and seeing the firsthand reaction of a shooting especially, at a school, was especially impactful for me,” Keyani told The Daily. “In the past, I feel like these events have kind of been brushed under the rug very quickly, and seeing the students at MSD take a stand so quickly and gain such national attention… was really inspiring.”
In a letter issued to all Palo Alto high school communities prior to the walkout, principals from Gunn High School and Paly, in collaboration with Interim Superintendent Karen Hendricks, expressed their support for the local walkout.
“Although neither the schools nor the District can legally sanction a walkout, we applaud our students’ commitment to be on the forefront of driving social change on this topic and we support our students,” they wrote.
They added that while schools are required by law to take attendance, they do not consider it a “punitive measure.”
“There will not be any other consequences to students walking out other than taking attendance,” they wrote.
Students were not the only demonstrators. Local parent Laura Daschbach Pitchford spoke to the crowd about the death of her sister Michele Daschbach, who was killed during a California mass shooting in 2011.
“While Michele did not die in a school shooting, the tragedy — like any mass shooting — affected an entire community,” she said.
However, not all students agreed with the rally’s message. Paly junior Tucker Biorn clashed with campus security when he tried to drive his pickup truck — adorned with National Rifle Association and American flags — into the Paly parking lot following the walkout.
“They told me I couldn’t park in here, and I basically said that I’m doing it,” Biorn said. “What am I doing wrong? If this were a flag that said ‘gun control,’ they would not have said anything.”
While Biorn said he attended the walkout to pay tribute to the Parkland victims, he added that he remains skeptical about effectiveness of gun control.
“I stepped out of class to give my respects to the people who died,” Biorn said. “I feel bad for them — I wish that had never happened, but I don’t believe that banning guns will solve that.”
Castilleja’s Head of School Nanci Kauffman added that while many Palo Alto residents are in favor of gun control, diverse political discourse is a crucial component of students’ education, citing Castilleja’s curricular focus on fostering debate.
“The majority of our community would be in favor of some kind of gun legislation [or] gun control,” she said. “But at the same time, it’s built into our curriculum that students debate topics.”
Above all, Kauffman emphasized her pride for her students and their political action.
“I think this is a moment for our country to be really proud of the young people — how they are peacefully expressing their hopes and dreams on behalf of the safety of children of all ages,” Kauffman said. “Despite the unfortunate circumstances, it has felt really good to see young people organizing themselves and expressing what’s really important to them.”
Contact Erin Woo at erinkwoo ‘at’ stanford.edu and Katie Keller at ktkeller ‘at’ stanford.edu.