Last month’s massacre at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida was the latest in a long line of mass school killings in the U.S.
Last week, students around the nation — including Plateau middle and high schoolers — walked out of their classrooms in the hopes it will be the last.
“With all this talk about preserving our 2nd Amendment rights, it’s nice to see so many of us exercising our 1st Amendment rights and raising our voices for issues that are important to us,” Briley Conant, a Sumner High School junior, said to a crowd of close to a hundred students and a few adults who attended off-campus grounds. “The purpose of today’s demonstration is to protest the lack of action targeted at ending violence in schools. We are here advocating for and end to all violence in schools, from school shootings to bullying, because no student should be afraid to attend school.”
Conant was a key organizer in the Sumner High School walkout, along with Zach Pederson and a handful of others.
Many of the walkouts around the country — which started at 10 a.m. and lasted 17 minutes, one minute for each student and staff member killed in the Parkland shooting — focused on gun control, both in reaction to the growing number of mass shootings in the country and the renewed call sto arm school staff as a way to prevent or mitigate further shootings.
But Conant and Pederson decided to take a slightly different direction for their school walkout.
“There’s a lot of different opinions at Sumner High School. One of the things that we really tried to do is make it non-political. I mean, it is political, but we’re trying to make it non-political because we’re trying to create a space where it’s safe for anyone to have their own opinions,” Conant said in an interview after the walkout.
So while the rally was about change, Pederson said, it was also “about unity” — trying to find common ground and bring as many students into the discussion as possible.
They called this “radical civility.”
“It’s starting at the base level where everyone can agree,” Conant said. “No student, no teacher, nobody wants violence in schools. So just starting where everyone can agree, and building it up from there. That’s the only way to find a solution to an issue like this.”
Building relationships — especially with people across the social or political aisle — is the precursor to bringing social change on polarizing issues, they said.
“We must ensure that no student here is isolated from the student body. We must ensure that we do not create an environment that would rear a possible school shooter. We must ensure that we are in solidarity to create the change in our school environment to eliminate hate from our way of life,” Pederson said when it was his turn on the megaphone. “Try to meet as many people that you do not know and try to learn more about them… [ask] why they participated in this school walkout, and [learn] what they are going to do in order to make sure that no student at Sumner High School is contemplating taking away their life or the lives of others.”
All in all, Pederson and Conant said they were very happy with the way the Sumner High School walkout went, and they hope the conversation around school safety will continue in a civil, understanding way.
“Everyone is on the same page,” Conant said. “We’re all going to work together to find that solution. No one should be left out.”