Hundreds of local students from Camas and Washougal schools joined the youth-led National School Walkout on March 14, to honor the 17 victims of a Feb. 14 mass school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and call for changes inside their own schools as well as on a national level.
About 500 Camas High students marched out of classes at 10 a.m. on March 14, and gathered with the Camas High Walkout student organizers — Monica Chang, Catherine Garcia, Abigail Jiang, Tanner O’Brien and Sarah Wells-Moran — at the Camas High flagpole.
“Enough is enough,” Jiang said at the Camas student walkout. “As students, we demand tangible actions to ensure our safety in school. Although some of us may not be of voting age, we have a voice in our community and in our generation.”
The students read a short biography and had a moment of silence for each of the 17 Parkland victims before addressing their call for action.
“The shooting in Parkland, while thousands of miles away, is an issue that hits home. The community of Parkland was known as one of Florida’s safest cities, known for its public schools, a description almost identical to Camas,” Chang said at the walkout. “These shootings are not just a problem for Parkland, or Las Vegas or Sandy Hook — these mass shootings are an American problem. The conversation after mass shootings is always far too temporary, but the grief and the loss these families feel is permanent. As a nation, we have become desensitized to this horror. How can we allow this to continue? How can we continue to do nothing? Today, we honor these 17 victims in the hopes that America never has to do this again. But words are not enough. Today’s walkout is the first step of many.”
The students continued their call for action throughout the week, providing voter registration tables during lunch and gathering signatures for letters to local representatives.
“We are the students of America. We have a political voice and it’s time to use it,” Chang said.
Washougal students: walkout ‘not political’
Washougal High School students also walked out of school on March 14, and also took 17 minutes to honor the 17 Parkland victims.
In a noted change from Camas — and from the original walkout organized by Parkland student survivors, which called for immediate and tangible changes to the nation’s lax gun control laws — the Washougal students who gathered at Fishback Stadium for their own “walkout” said their action was “not political.”
As they began their own version of a walkout, senior Olivia Kelly, one of the Washougal High walkout organizers, spoke to her peers through a microphone.
“We want to clarify that this is not a political statement or an issue of division among us,” the Washougal senior said. “We need to bring awareness and show our support for the victims and the families of these horrific events.”
The Washougal students also read the names and biographies of each of the victims.
There were five students from Washougal who organized the walkout — seniors Kelly, Keana Macrae-Smith, Kate Northcut and Jalen Watts, and junior Dylan Van Horn.
Washougal High Principal Aaron Hansen said the students met with administration and surveyed student interest to organize the walkout.
“Their ask said it is about the victims. It is not about gun control, but about the victims from shootings that have occured this year,” Hansen said.
Kelly said the students who survived the Parkland shooting and initiated the national walkout inspired her.
“I think it was a really important thing to do,” she said. “(It’s important) to raise awareness. This shouldn’t be happening. It’s not a normal thing. It’s not right that it’s so normalized and even (more) so, the one that we are recognizing now isn’t even the most recent shooting. We can’t say that anymore. That is just unbelievable to me.”
Van Horn said he believes the walkout should be the start of all schools to start focusing on equality and inclusion for everyone.
“We should really be working on helping the people who are on the outside and who feel like they are outsiders — that they have people that care about that care about them.”
The Washougal students have already created new clubs to create inclusiveness such as Society Organized Against Racism and the Gay Straight Alliance club, Watts said.
“(The GSA) has made a huge impact on our school, I’d say, this year,” Watts continued. “There have been a lot of incidences against the LGBT community and they have helped rise above that and make people feel comfortable.”
Kelly said that she also thinks it’s really important for young people to voice their opinions and write to their elected officials.
“It’s really inspiring to see that happening, and knowing that it’s kind of being recognized now and we are being heard,” she said.