“We are the generation that will end gun violence,” said Oberlin High School senior Madeline Hennessey, her voice determined.
She was among nearly 150 students who left the school’s grounds Friday afternoon to address gun violence and protest inaction by the U.S. government. The walkout was part of a national movement to mark the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre.
Most of the demonstrators gathered on Tappan Square were not alive when the Littleton, Co., shooting happened nearly two decades ago, senior Lucy Cipinko said. Yet it thrust her generation into a strange and scary reality that its parents and grandparents never had to deal with.
“No child should sit in class and wonder how they would react if an armed threat were to enter,” she said.
Cipinko’s message carried a sense of urgency following the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, where 17 students were killed.
“Most of us were just young children when our parents had to explain to us what a mass shooting was. I am now 17 years old and it feels like nothing has changed,” she said.
Now that her peers are beginning to turn 18, Cipinko said they’re ready to hit the voting booths and change the nation’s political landscape.
Leah Sharpe shared a poem with the crowd, protesting the availability of assault-style weapons: “In the United States, taking a life is as easy as taking a breath… I’m scared. How can an AR-15 be bought by somebody as old as me?” she asked.
Janet Garrett, a Democrat running for the 4th U.S. Congressional District seat, said school walkouts are no different than when teenagers protested the Vietnam War or fought for equal rights. She apologized on behalf of her generation for leaving this problem in the hands of younger people.
“But you know what? I know that you will be the ones to make the difference,” she said. “You are an inspiration to the nation.”
Students protested in a similar fashion March 14, when roughly 40 students walked out of class as part of a movement spurred by the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
Oberlin High School principal William Baylis originally told the News-Tribune that students who participated would face detention or suspension, but his stance changed.
Baylis was made aware of the April 20 walkout and required students who planned to attend to return a signed permission slip or face disciplinary action.
“We wanted to extend the event to everyone at school, even those who maybe couldn’t have supportive parents sign their permisson slip,” Cipinko said. “Overall, the spirit of the school and the administration is in the right place. I think bureaucracy sometimes just gets in the way.”
Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.