ELHS Students Protest Government Inaction Over Gun Violence
Above: Students walking out of ELHS this morning.
Students of East Lansing High School joined students nationwide today in walking out at about 10 a.m. to protest gun violence and government inaction over gun regulation. The nationwide walk-outs are in response to the murders of seventeen people at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, one month ago, committed by a former student using a AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle.
Below: Students walking out of school just before 10 a.m. this morning.
The ELHS walk-out was organized by two student clubs, Students for Gender Equality and the Black Student Union. Several leaders from those groups spoke to the crowd and led a moment of silence for the victims in Parkland. ELHS senior Aaliyah Buell, co-president of the Black Student Union, led students in chants of “No more silence—end gun violence!” and “Enough is enough! We want change!”
Below: Aaliyah Buell at the event.
Sophomore Zoe Aho was the first to give a formal speech to the highly responsive crowd. Cheers went up as she said, “I am tired of hearing that a few sentences in a document written 221 years ago are more important than the lives of the people in this country!” When she came to speak specifically of her age-mates killed in Parkland, the crowd grew serious and silent, and all that could be heard was Aho and a drone taking photos from above.
Below: Zoe Aho before her speech.
Senior Emma McIlhagga spoke next, telling her classmates she was tired of hearing gun control is “‘not that easy’ and that kids ‘don’t know what we’re talking about.' If it’s not that easy then why, only two months after 9/11, did TSA introduce new security guidelines to prevent something like that from happening again? If it’s not that easy, then why, after the Port Arthur massacre where 35 people were killed in Australia, did it take less than six months for the government to start working to rid the country of dangerous assault rifles and assault-style guns?”
McIlhagga insisted young people want “evident action, something from our government and our legislators to show America that they want to protect us, they want to protect the children, and that they want to protect schools.”
Below: Emma McIlhagga speaks to the crowd.
Freshman Anaiis Rios-Kasoga picked up on similar themes, but “broadened the context” to talk about gun violence in general in America. She told the crowd she “cannot seem to find a reason why a teenager or anyone at all needs to have an automatic rifle.” She asked why, if shootings are an “epidemic,” the government doesn’t treat it like one and find a way to stop people from dying. “This is a public safety issue and we need to take action!”
Rios-Kasoga expressed frustration and disgust with the situation: “Many of America’s ‘leaders’ make a decision right after a mass shooting or national tragedy. They will tweet their condolences, prayers, their deepest apologies, but when it comes to making a choice to change legislation in a way that will protect people in this country, they make a choice not to. Because NRA money apparently means more than the people they are supposed to represent.”
Below: Anaiis Rios-Kasoga speaks at the walk-out.
Student leaders asked about the event uniformly expressed appreciation for support of the school’s administration and staff. ELHS senior Berkley Sorrells told ELi, “The support is overwhelming – from teachers to janitors to helping us, to band teachers helping us get the podium and speaker, up to Mr. Wells and [Superintendent] Dori Leyko. It’s very refreshing and we are very lucky to have those people on our side.”
Asked why the event was being organized by Students for Gender Equality (SGE) and the Black Student Union, senior Danny Kaplowitz, a leader in SGE, explained that these groups include “students who are passionate about activism, about making their communities better, so it was natural that they should take the lead in this event.”
Kaplowitz told ELi, “We are the next generation of voters and we’re not going to let these things keep happening, we’re not going to let politicians make decisions about us behind closed doors at the behest of special interests.” Specifically, “We are advocating for stricter gun control within our communities.”
Several groups joined in support of the student walk-out, including the East Lansing High School Parent Council, which provided a statement to ELi via its president, Ellen Ives. The statement, calling for specific action on gun control and mental health provision, was issued jointly with the East Lansing Board of Education, the East Lansing District Parent Council, the East Lansing High School Student Council, and the East Lansing Education Association.
Below: Principal Andrew Wells at the event today.
As the students headed back in to class after the event this morning, Principal Andy Wells told ELi, “I’m feeling great. Our students did an awesome job. It’s all about our student voice and I’m just so proud of our students for being able to organize this event and voice their opinions.”
Photos by ELHS student and ELi reporter Kepler Domurat-Sousa.
Note: When this article was first published, we reported that "ELHS Principal Andy Wells issued a statement to parents in advance of the event saying that the school was ready to provide indoor space and supportive staff for students who did not wish to participate. But, as it turns out, everyone wanted to participate. He told ELi after the event, 'it was determined as we collaborated with our students that everybody wanted to come out.'” After this was published, Wells wrote to clarify, "It was determined that the event would take place outside--not that everyone wanted to walk out. We knew that all students were not going to participate prior to the event."
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