In the wake of recent gun violence in schools across the nation, students are looking for concrete ways to address these tragedies. Many schools have implemented additional counseling and security measures but in Olympia, students are rallying for more.
On Wednesday, March 14 and Saturday, March 24, teens from local high schools have organized, advertised and facilitated a planned walk-out and protests at the State Capitol. They hope that by speaking out from the front lines, their voices will be heard to influence lasting change.
The walk-out will take place at Olympia High School at 10:00 a.m., Wednesday March 14. Students will leave class and meet outside the school for 17 minutes to honor the lives lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“There will be music, reading of victim’s names, and quick speeches, all by students,” OHS Sophomore William Winokur-Royer explains. “This would be an opportunity to document the front lines of the youth conversation on gun violence in our country.”
Later, 18-year-old Gracie Anderson has organized a rally at the Capitol after the OHS walk-out. “As students, the responsibility shouldn’t be on us to advocate for the importance of our own lives,” Anderson says. “The officials who represent us should be doing everything in their power to keep us safe.”
Anderson started a campaign called Will We Be Next? Her reasoning? “So that we can have more peace of mind,” she explains. “This is student-led, student-driven, student-focused. Despite only being launched recently (in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, shooting), we have reached over 50,000 individuals through tweets and Facebook posts. Over the next couple of weeks, we will be represented on campuses throughout Washington State.” Their March will be on March 14 from 11:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.
For Anderson, this type of activism springs from love. “Since my family and I all work in, or attend, schools, the rash of school shootings in America has been hugely emotionally draining,” she explains. “And coordinating the rally has also been lots of stressful, hard work. But I think it has definitely made me more resilient, and more sure of myself. I’ve had to double down on what I believe in and what I know to be right. I’ve learned to always keep the larger goal in mind. I think this work is exhausting for anyone who takes it on, but the only way to get through is to dedicate yourself entirely to the possibility that you might actually make positive change.”
March 24 at 11:00 a.m. is when March For Our Lives: Olympia takes to the streets. They’ll begin on the Capital steps and march to Sylvester Park. One of the organizers is Madelyn Olson, daughter of Brady Olson, the North Thurston High School teacher who tackled a gunman in April 2015. “This march is to show our solidarity for victims of all school shootings, especially those in Parkland,” says Olson. “Having experienced a school shooting, this is something that is very significant for my family and I.
“Growing up as the daughter of two teachers, I have always been told to get involved and to try and make a change. Lately, that is all I have been doing. I have been pushing those around me to get involved in many things going on in the country, but this event is near and dear to my heart.
“We are continuously told that we are the future and that we matter, so why are we being turned down and quieted while we are doing exactly what we have been told to do our whole lives? The students at Parkland have my utmost respect for not backing down and continuing to fight this fight and voice their opinions in the wake of such sad times. As someone who lives across the country, I can only push those around me to do what they are so bravely doing, and show them they are not alone, and we have their backs.”
Hailey O’Hara is a Sophomore at Olympia High School. She’s participating for much the same reason. “Our mission is not a new conquest: we want to be safe in our schools,” she explains. “We want our peers to be safe in their schools. We want our future children to be safe in their schools. This unity is shared with all students advocating for change across our nation. Our generation is rising up to achieve what our parent’s generation has failed to address.”
She, perhaps, sums up the goal of so many in the wake of these tragedies. “We must keep this flame alive,” she continues. “After the walk-outs, after the marches, after the protests, we must not let our voices be dulled or forgotten. I can speak for many when I state that we will not be giving up. We will keep these tragedies and these flickers of hope for a better tomorrow alive until results are met. To all those damaged by gun violence: this is for you. Sincerely, the teenagers of America.”