Students walk out to honor victims of Parkland shooting and advocate for stricter gun control laws

Lowell students participate in a 17-second moment of silence honor the Parkland shooting victims. Photo by Tobi Kawanami

This Wednesday morning, Lowell students joined thousands of other schools across the nation in walking out to stand in solidarity with the victims of the Parkland shooting and to advocate for gun reform. The walkout consisted of a 17-minute assembly at the flagpole area in front of the school during third block. Then a contingent of over 100 Lowell students joined a larger student protest in front of City Hall.

Students began assembling at the flagpole after registry at around 9:50 a.m., as the junior Lowell Student Association president Steven Gong, one of the organizers of the Lowell chapter of the walkout, used a megaphone to urge students to pre-register to vote. Tables were set up near the entrance to the school with the necessary materials for registering, facilitating the process.

Students were also encouraged to sign banners with the word “#Enough” painted on them to take to City Hall for the off-campus segment of the protest. Student Body Council Events Coordinator Devin Yuan read the names and ages of the students who had been killed in the Parkland shooting, and the protesters held 17 seconds of silence to commemorate the 17 victims.

A Lowell student hold up a sign in front of City Hall. Photo by Ciara Kosai

Afterwards, several students took a turn at the megaphone to advocate for change on the school, local and national level. Two members of the newly created Student Safety Committee, Ashley Tran and Portia Lucas, brought attention to potential safety issues at Lowell and urged the administration and the school board to take action. One of their demands was that classrooms locks be modified so that they can be locked from the inside, which could prevent teachers and students from having to risk their lives to lock the door during a school shooting. “Our administrators’ offices can all lock from the inside,” Tran said. “If their doors can lock, ours should too.”

Tran also called for repairs to the Lowell Public Announcement system. “If you and your friends were sitting on the grass right over there, or out on the field in PE, you would not be able to hear any announcements in the case of an emergency,” Tran said.

Lucas argued that rallying Lowell students to attend board meetings would be key to promoting these changes. “If we can get a group of Lowell students to attend school board meetings consistently, we are bound to get their attention,” she said.

The student speakers stood on the steps going down to the flagpole at the front of the school alongside the administration, several reporters and supervisor Norman Yee. The administration was largely supportive of the students exercising their right to protest. “I’m here in support of the students,” assistant principal Orlando Beltran said. “The student body approached me about this walkout, I coordinated with them to help plan it so that kids were kept safe.”

“If we can get a group of Lowell students to attend school board meetings consistently, we are bound to get their attention.”

However, students emphasized that this was a youth empowerment movement. “It doesn’t really matter what the Lowell admin do, we do appreciate their support but at the end of the day this is a youth empowerment movement and we with or without the support of teachers administrators and parents, we can still make a difference,” Gong said.

Due to the support for activism in San Francisco, the organizers felt an obligation to speak for those who are not in such liberal environments throughout the United States. “As one of the largest progressive cities in Northern California and one of the most liberal cities in the country, we want to use our privileges we have to speak out for those who can’t,” Gong said. The organizer’s goal was to create a community within the Lowell student body, as well as throughout the district.

Junior Steven Gong prepares to speak in front of the crowd at City Hall. Photo by Jennifer Cheung

The 17-minute assembly was acted on a national scale, planned by the Parkland advocates. At Lowell, it was organized by a small group of student advocates, who also planned the eventual march to City Hall coordinating with the 20 other schools who walked out as well. The advocates wanted to provide a platform for student voices to be heard. “Our goal was to honor the victims and give students the opportunity to speak and share their thoughts and opinions,” LSA Community Liaison Almarie Mata said. The City Hall march was inspired by the advocates from Parkland and was also in reaction to the legislator’s and adult’s inaction, according to Gong and Mata.

Following the speeches, over 100 Lowell students took the M train to City Hall to join students from across the city in protest. For some, their classmates’ call to action influenced their decision to take part. “We weren’t planning on going to the march originally, but at the walkout we heard all those speeches and they were really empowering,” junior Maya Terplan said. Others, like Devyn Gallagher and said that they knew they would go to city hall the moment that they heard about it. “There was no question,” Gallagher said.

Students from over 20 Bay Area schools braved the pouring rain, chanting, “What do we want? Gun control. When do we want it? Now!” and “No more silence, end gun violence!” As it poured rain, student speakers gave speeches and read poetry in front of the crowd.

Bay Area students gather in front of City Hall. Photo by Ciara Kosai

Many students spoke about the intersectionality of gun violence. One student spoke about how gun violence intersects with domestic violence with more than 50 percent of mass shooters being abusive towards their partners. Others spoke about how the daily occurrence of gun violence in marginalized communities is left out of the national conversation. Mata spoke about the power of the youth voice and stated that she believes youth will lead to nation-wide change. “We deserve to be heard! we have every right to be heard! Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise!” she exclaimed to the crowd.

Next, District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen and District 1 supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer gave speeches voicing their support and emphasizing the importance of this movement. Additionally, San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education President Hydra Mendoza and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Vincent Matthews shared their support, Matthews saying, “We’re so happy to see you today fighting for your rights!”

“Our goal was to honor the victims and give students the opportunity to speak and share their thoughts and opinions.”

The students then proceeded to march from City Hall to the Ferry Building then to to steps near Ghirardelli Square. People lined the edges of the sidewalks and cheered as the protesters crowded the streets. Students chanted, “Hey, hey, NRA, how many kids did you kill today?” A police procession cleared the streets and police stood on either side of the protesters. The march dispersed at the end of it’s route, but activists for stricter gun control will try to continue to make their voices heard in protest.

There will be another march on March 24, originally planned by the activists at Parkland’s Stoneman Douglas High School. According to the March for our Lives website, there will be 519 rallies in different parts of the country on that day. The march in San Francisco will be taking place at Civic Center on Saturday, March 24 at 1 p.m.