Thousands of Students Protest Gun Violence

Yves here. We’ve generally relegated the political fight over guns to Links, but we thought we’d make an exception, since this post provides some on-the-ground observations. However, notice that the author mentions in passing that he was briefly in jail for protesting the Vietnam War. As readers well know, one of the big impediments to activism now is the pervasiveness of background checks. An arrest record, even for something that should be regarded as praiseworthy, or at worst minor, is now a scarlet letter in the eyes of most employers.

By Dr. Shepherd Bliss {, a retired college teacher and farmer who has contributed to 24 books

Memorial from a local school in Sebastopol. Photographer: Bill Shortridge

Driving through small-town Sebastopol on March 14 toward the Senior Center, this 73-year-old noticed groups of young students with signs gathering on downtown street corners and waving to motorists. These active participants in direct democracy joined thousands who walked out of schools across the U.S. and the world, organized by the Women’s March Youth branch.

As I got closer to the students, a variety of feelings, thoughts, and memories emerged. Tears of appreciation began to drip from my eyes, as I learned why they were protesting.

Then I smiled at them and flashed the peace sign, as I used to during the active 1960s. I eventually resigned my U.S. Army officer’s commission to join the marches that finally helped ended the American wars on the people of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Spending a short time in jail, before being released–since I was merely expressing my First Amendment freedom of speech–was worth it.

I’m proud of our middle and high school students, as well as others, for non-violently standing up to defend their generation against those who continue to shoot innocent youth and others in Florida and elsewhere. “Lives matter more than guns. Enough is enough!” were among the signs.

Many teachers and administrators supported students wanting to join the brief marches. California Rep. Mike Thompson created a video, which schools are showing, where he encourages students to “stand up and speak out” against gun violence.

Each event had its own character. The Sebastopol rallies were relatively dignified and many protestors had taped their mouths. All corners of Santa Rosa High, in contrast, were full of students waving signs, chanting, and expressing a call to action and a show of force.

An estimated 500 students, about a quarter of Santa Rosa High’s student body, joined the walkout. In nearby Petaluma around 2000 students from a dozen schools walked out. Some wore bright orange #Never Again shirts, a prominent hash-tag, according to the daily Press Democrat.

Nearly all of the 1300 students at Sonoma Valley High School gathered with signs such as “I should be writing my term paper instead of my will” and “Never Again!” Some waved the American flag and shouted things such as “It’s time for the next generation to take over!”

My feelings eventually ranged from a mixture of sadness—because these students needed to protest—to appreciation for their bravery against those who threaten the Earth’s future.

“Too Young to Protest? 10-Year-Olds Beg to Differ” headlined a March 14 New York Times article. “It started last month as a writing exercise on the 1963 Birmingham Children’s Crusade, when more than 1000 students skipped school and marched to demand civil rights,” the article began. So the current marches have also been a history classroom.

“The classroom assignment mushroomed into a plan—hatched by 10-and-11-year-olds—to stage a little civil disobedience of their own,”the article notes.

“We Won’t Let the N.R.A. Win” headlines another Times article, written by three New Jersey high school students. “The killings of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida may be the massacre that finally gets federal and state governments to enact common-sense gun control laws,” the students commence their article.

They remind us, “That should have happened after Columbine. It should have happened after Virginia Tech. It should have happened after Sandy Hook. But it didn’t. The Stoneman Douglas School is where our generation draws a line.” So they imagined and then created what some organizers describe as the National School Walkout.

17 is the number of students and staff killed at the Florida school. Many of the events were scheduled for 17 minutes.

“March for Our Lives is not just one day,” the students conclude. “We must all stand with Stoneman Douglas students and say, ‘Never again.’ This isn’t about being aligned with one political party or another. This is about protecting this nation’s children.”

The American Civil Liberties Union helped train some students in their direct actions. The creation of a sense of community was among the marches’ goals.

Meanwhile, a series of violent threats have been scrawled on campuses, including at Santa Rosa High in Northern California.

“We are the future of this country, yet we can no longer assume we are safe from mass shootings in our schools. Nor can we assume our elders will protect us,” the students write.

When I arrived at the Sebastopol Area Senior Center, I spoke with other elders about the issues these youth raise. We agreed that we should support their leadership and join these brave “first responders.”

“Eloquent young voices, equipped with symbolism and social media savvy, riding a resolve as yet untouched by cynicism,” is how the New York Times described the rallies.

In Lower Manhattan, Gov. Andrew Cuomo joined a die-in at Zucotti Park, the former home of the Occupy Wall Street protests.

“Hey-hey, ho-ho, the N.R.A. has to go,” students chanted as they marched to the D. C. Capital steps. They were met by members of Congress, the most popular of whom seemed to be Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Stay tuned for at least two more nationwide protests on March 24 and April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine murders, as students continue to gather steam and define their movement.

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  1. Tom Stone

    Not the lack of medical care which every other industrialized nation provides, not childhood hunger when one out of five American children goes to bed hungry, not the gutting of the Bill of Rights ( Habeas Corpus left the building with Elvis when the NDAA passed).

    ” Gun Violence” at a time when violent crime has been declining for decades.
    Is “Russia!” next?

    1. kj1313

      Sorry but that’s bunk. This is the only industrialized nation where we see a string of mass shootings time and time again. We have the most gun deaths by far amongst our peer nations. We can multitask and try to solve this, try to get Medicare for all, tax the rich and reinstate habeas corpus.

      1. JBird

        I think Tom Stone is thinking of like the mass lead poisoning of children in our country.

        Violent crime, including gun violence, has been declining since 1980.

        Admittedly the 500,000 American children (let’s not think about the adults) who are poisoned is not as in your face as mass school shootings, which have been increasing more, or less, with the increasing crapification of our society especially economically since the 1990s when mass shootings, starting with the USPS cutbacks. (Going Postal?) Still school homicides are declining.

        I have spent the last four decades watching every social and economic ill in my country getting worse except violence and homicides including gun deaths. Yeah, gun deaths suck and perhaps we should really push to get rid of them, but the current push smacks of virtue signaling and political opportunism by many.

    2. tongorad

      ” Gun Violence” at a time when violent crime has been declining for decades.

      School kids protesting at school about school gun violence.
      Are you sure that school shootings have been declining for decades?

      1. rjs

        Gun violence at schools from Parkland to March 7: 2/20: Jackson Memorial 2/23: Southeastern Louisiana 2/24: Savannah State 2/26: Oakland High 2/27: Norfolk State 2/27: Mississippi Valley 2/28: Dalton High 3/2: Central Michigan 3/4: Texas State 3/7: Huffman High

        a couple of days ago, someone laid out over 7000 pairs of kids shoes in front of Congress, one for each one killed since Columbine

    3. jrs

      It may simply be more relevant to their immediate concerns.

      However if there is one thing American politics does teach it is that nothing can be done about poverty – a better system for normalizing vast poverty and disempowering anyone to do much about it can hardly be thought of. I think when most people (not some committed leftists, *most* people) think of things politics can change poverty simply doesn’t even cross the mind.

    4. Antoine LeDada

      You have no right to define a cause as bigger than others. Everybody is free to decide where to spend his activist hours, and let me tell you that young people being actively protesting to enhance their future (and your kids’ too), is way better than them sitting lonely watching “likes” accumulate on a shared cat video. Also keep in mind that this experience may motivate them to join other causes you deem more worthy.
      That being said, I personally think that ending neoliberalism rule is the major cause to punch for, but that can only be achieved by uniting in a clear way the multiple “sub-struggles” (medical care, justice reform, finance gutting, women liberation…), and you cannot do that by denigrating your fellow protestors’ focus struggle. That was a major mistake of the reductionist marxists who argued that class struggle was above women liberation (in fact all other struggles), which should be fought for later. That caused the feminists to break ranks, understandably.

    5. Synoia

      These are the future. They have a unifying cause, and are served by no political party.

      Look in the mirror and regard the past, and reflect on the future, because we have a poor track record.

      These are the generation who have to live with the profit-ar-all times destruction of our civilization. We will cursed by them.

    6. dcblogger

      These students just watch their friends and teachers gunned down, small wonder that they are determined to do something about it. Gun idolatry has a lot to do with our dysfunctional political culture. Quoting Mark Ames:

      Much better is to pour arms unrestricted into the population, give them legal cover and political encouragement to take political matters into their own hands with laws like “Stand Your Ground”. That way you wind up creating a political culture of atomized, fear-fueled citizens who think they’re literally at war with each other, and their only way out is to fend for themselves and their family.

      1. BeliTsari

        Thank you, exactly the point. Nobody really ever had to hire one half of the working class to kill the other half; darned critters took out usurious loans to buy tossed-together Fweedum Gwoop Bushmasters at WallyWorld not a decade ago. Our betters might just avoid having to speculate-up an app to replace the Pinkertons, Regulators, posse or Militias to hunt-down slaves, murder natives or break union heads, but if you’re watching ‘Babylon Berlin’ there aren’t all that many spoiler alerts, I believe we know what’s coming…

        too bad, yuppie libruls invariably toss the most evolved, self aware or concerned kids to the ravening freikorps?

  2. rjs

    some of the teenage leaders of this movement have garnered a million twitter followers in just a few short weeks…

    as an anti-Vietnam war & civil rights protest veteran, i haven’t seen anything else with the widespread grassroots support that this has since…

    1. JBird

      That’s one very good thing. Getting people out of their passivity. I don’t agree with much of this but it’s nice seeing people getting passionate and involved.

  3. False Solace

    > As readers well know, one of the big impediments to activism now is the pervasiveness of background checks. An arrest record, even for something that should be regarded as praiseworthy, or at worst minor, is now a scarlet letter in the eyes of most employers.

    Fortunately these students are minors. When they turn 18 their arrest record will be sealed, meaning their activism won’t impact their future careers. Protest is therefore more economically viable for them than for people who are actually able to vote.

    Note this is not the case for drug convictions. If you have one of those you lose eligibility for college student aid. At least that was true when I was filling out FAFSAs. Thanks, Congress.

  4. Arizona Slim

    There’s a big march in Tucson on the 24th. I’m tempted to join it. Or at least show up at the finish, which will be on the University of Arizona Mall. The students should be arriving there (from Downtown) during the noon hour. March is being organized by the YWCA.

  5. PQS

    I, for one, am ashamed of myself for giving up on the gun debate, which I did after Newtown. I thought that any country that could stand unblinking in the face of that tragedy and simply do nothing was a lost cause. “The Utes” have shown me and others in my generation (Gen X) that getting mobilized and organized is not a waste of time – witness the hollow pronouncements of the NRA after this one, and the whites of the eyes of the bought-off politicians. Note how loud the NRA has to get in the face of the overwhelming numbers of Americans who want very basic improvements like universal background checks.

    The deep irony is that the more the Guns Everywhere crowd pushes their Single Issue, the more Single Issue Voters they create against them. More victims = more desire for gun control. I wonder if the NRA and their lackeys in Congress have thought about that.

    1. Biph

      The NRA and their financial backers are hoping this leads to higher gun sales. The NRA supports the interests of gun manufactures not gun owners and with the election of Trump the fear of “gun grabbers” was reduced and therefore gun sales fell. They are using these protests to try and revive that fear.
      This is not a criticism of the students whose goals I generally support, just my view of how cynical I think the NRA is. The gun manufactures are interested in making as much money in as short a time as they can, if that leads to a gutting of their businesses through regulation 5 or 10 years down the line matters far less to them than the next quarter.

      1. PQS

        As soon as you think you’ve plumbed the depths of cynicism at the NRA, there’s always another level. I just think theyve started to believe their own nonsense and the blowback is taking them by surprise.

  6. oaf

    *assault persons* will use whatever their bad brains can get hold of. Maybe we should stop making them…

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