They waved handmade signs and chanted “No more silence, end gun violence” and “Hey-hey, ho-ho, the NRA has got to go!” until their voices cracked.
At times, they listed mass shootings that have happened over the years across the nation, including a recent school shooting that claimed the lives of 17 people in Parkland, Fla. Some broke down in tears.
Hundreds of students from various public and private schools in the metro area rallied at Central High School in St. Paul before marching to the Minnesota State Capitol Wednesday to press lawmakers to put in place new restrictions on guns.
“We’ve sat through many school shootings, and we’ve watched, and we’ve listened and we’ve waited for something to change, and nothing has changed,” said one of the organizers, Clare Fitzpatrick, a senior from Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul.
An idea that started with a little more than a dozen students ballooned into a huge crowd. Organizers of Wednesday’s protest said they turned to social media to mobilize students from different schools, urging them to wear their student colors and bring their loud voices.
Similar walkouts are planned for other dates in March and April — including the “March For Our Lives” protest organized by the Parkland students and scheduled for March 24 in Washington, D.C.
Micale Stewart-Davis, a 15-year-old Highland Park High School freshman, said he heard about the walkout on social media and came to “support the 17 students who died,” a reference to a 19-year-old gunman’s attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
“I just hope that we can change this. I just hope that everybody ... that they can make this work, and we can change the gun violence. And find out a way to keep guns away from schools,” he said.
Asha Abdille and Fadumo Ege, seniors at St. Paul Central High School, were among those who participated in the walkout. They said a video of the aftermath shooting in Florida, which circulated on Facebook, spurred them to join the demonstration.
“I was really scared for them and for myself, and we shouldn’t feel unsafe in school,” Abdille said. “Seeing that video made me walk out.”
“Schools have been supportive, but they didn’t endorse this,” said one of the protest leaders, Ella Doyle, a junior at Cretin-Derham Hall. “Nobody is getting punished for coming here today.”
Arie Walker, a sophomore from St. Paul Academy and Summit School, said the mass shootings have instilled fear in her. Before she comes to school, she said, she thinks about what students could be thinking. She said this has made it hard for her to trust her peers.
“It builds tension,” Walker said. “We shouldn’t be scared that someone is going to come to school and shoot us.”
Meanwhile, the St. Paul school board is set to vote March 20 on a resolution that calls on federal, state and local officials and agencies to impose stricter restrictions on guns and provide resources for school safety.
At Leif Erickson Park, outside the State Office Building near the Capitol, students observed a moment of silence for all the victims of mass shootings and criticized lawmakers for provoking students to feel the need to protest when they should be focused on their studies.
“We’ve received silence from our legislators that can’t pass a bill to help our students, and I think our first priority should be passing legislation that’s going to help save lives of students,” Fitzpatrick said.
Some legislators took in the action outside the Capitol.
Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said he thinks the demonstrations will ultimately have an impact on lawmakers at the Capitol.
“I don’t know if this rally today will make the difference — I think this rally and continued pressure is going to change things,” he said in an interview. “After Sandy Hook, I thought that was going to change it. Little kids, kindergartners. I thought they had to change it. Nothing changed. Something changed after Parkland. That day, you had some of the kids saying, ‘Why are we in this?’ They responded so quickly.”
Rep. Ilhan Omar, DFL-Minneapolis, who was watching the students from the sidelines, said that their action shows lawmakers that it’s time to act on gun-control measures. She said it’s critical for elected officials to listen to the concerns of students “and certainly know that the answer is not arming more teachers and having more security guards, but it’s about making sure that we end a culture that encourages violence and that we put certain protections in place to end gun violence.”
Students seemed unsatisfied with the comments from lawmakers and vowed to continue to pressure them until change comes.
“Parkland showed the world that a line has been crossed,” Doyle said. “We’re trying to show the world that we, as teenagers, can and will make a change.”
Ryan Faircloth, a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune, contributed to this report.