Students ignite passion through protests, but reform will only happen through voting

Devan Fink, Online Editor-in-Chief

School shootings are a problem.

You don’t need me to tell you that; the facts say it all. More than 150,000 students across 170 primary and secondary schools have been impacted by a school shooting since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. These numbers are unacceptable, and it becomes even worse when you consider that America is the only country where this regularly happens.

When over 300 Madison students joined together in a 20-minute walkout on Feb. 21 to protest this gun violence in schools, the Hawk Talk Twitter account was flooded with messages of positivity. Madison alumni reached out, tweeting that they were proud of their high school for participating and for showing solidarity with their fellow students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

More demonstrations have been planned. On Mar. 14, a 17-minute walkout, one minute for each victim, at 10 a.m. is being organized by the organizers of the Women’s March. Several other marches and movements are being organized by students. The March for Our Lives has been scheduled to take place in major cities on Mar. 24 by the students of Douglas High School. Another student-run nationwide protest has been planned by a student in Ridgefield, Conn.; she attends a high school only 20 minutes away from Sandy Hook Elementary School. This protest is to take place on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the 1999 Columbine shooting, and consists of students leaving their schools at 10 a.m. for the rest of the day.

We should remember the 17 victims of Parkland. As we should remember the 28 victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School. And the 33 victims at Virginia Tech. And the 15 at Columbine. And all of the others who have been impacted, especially those that do not even get media coverage. We have become too normalized to school shootings, and that is not only horrific, but fundamentally wrong.

The walkout on that Wednesday, though it spoke volumes about the Madison community, will not do anything in Congress. Unfortunately, that is just our society. Congress is too polarized to react to a simple demonstration.  

I am all for supporting our fellow high schoolers in Florida and our fellow Americans around the country, but the walkout alone, and any future walkouts that will occur in March and April, will probably not do enough to inspire action from state and federal legislatures to stop this. We must remember why we are walking out. We are not walking out because the weather is nice, and we are not walking out because we want to get out of class. We are walking out because we want to remember the victims, and we are walking out because we do not feel safe going to public school every day anymore.

It is hard to hear teachers who say that they are buying door stoppers, with their own money, in order to protect their classrooms. It is hard to hear that teachers are not only encouraged, but required, to lock their doors during the school day. It is hard to hear students claim that they do not feel safe.

But, if a shooting at an elementary school does not create Congressional action, then I really do not know what will.

Madison, if you want real change, go vote for it in 2018 and in 2020. Some freshmen and most sophomores, juniors and seniors will all be able to vote by 2020. Voting is the most effective way to inspire change. If you do not feel secure in your school, go vote for those who will ensure that you, and future Madison, FCPS and high school students around the country, will be safe.

Whether that means we institute universal background checks, raise the gun ownership age, ban specific assault rifles or a combination of all three, if students are being shot while trying to receive an education, there is something wrong with the system that we have.

FCPS prides itself on giving students a safe learning environment. They have made many progressive advancements over the past decade to be at the forefront of the nation in inclusivity.

But this issue is bigger than FCPS. It is nationwide. We need change, and these walkouts alone will not do enough.

We are the generation that has seen and dealt with these tragedies. It is upon us to make the necessary changes. And that really begins at the ballot box.

Madison students, as Ghandi so famously said, “Go be the change you want to see in the world.”