A disappointing ‘student-led’ walkout

Eve Crandall and Noelle Mesbah

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“We call BS.”

These are the words heard by the entire country—the words passionately spoken by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior Emma González that ignited a gun reform movement so powerful that it spread like wildfire through our schools and homes. A movement so strong it inspired a national walkout for every student across the U.S. to participate in. On March 14, our social media feeds were inundated with videos of students around the country making speeches and holding posters advocating for gun reform. Their protests felt real and raw; they were a direct reflection of the passion of the student body.

So where did this message, this passion, get lost in translation on its way to WHS?

A group of unelected student-activists set up an Instagram account, first named @westfieldwalkout, to begin planning Westfield’s own walkout. Many of us were intrigued at the thought of a student-led movement, but felt silenced due to the lack of communication between the student-organizers and the student body itself. We didn’t think that an event of this nature needed to be organized at all in order to be an effective protest, but we still trusted these student-leaders to keep in mind the original goal of the event.

We lost this trust when the Instagram page changed its username to @17minutesofsolidarity, and we realized the administration was a larger part of this “student-led movement” than the students themselves.

The final form of the event we held would more appropriately be called a “school-organized assembly,” since the words “walkout” and “gun” were both off-limits, detracting from the original focus on gun reform. We spoke about the terror, the fear and the sadness we all felt, but we spoke little of the action we should have been advocating for in order to prevent more of the same in the future. Though touching and meaningful, the pre-approved poems and speeches were nothing but thoughts and prayers. These sentiments won’t protect students in the future, unlike actual reforms.

And if you give the administration the power to dictate the rules and require permission slips, it’s not a protest. Understandably, the administration is not allowed to support a political protest, but in schools around the nation, students walked out without the support of the administration, despite potential consequences. We understand the hard work that was done to organize this event, but for a genuine protest, all we would have needed was a time and place. After all, your true belief in a cause is shown through what you’re willing to risk for it. Due to private meetings between student-activists and the administration, WHS students were not given the opportunity to show their willingness to fight for what they believe in.

Despite what occured within our own sphere here in Westfield, it’s not too late to have your voice heard. The movement continues to be a student-led operation on social media, and there are plenty of ways to get connected.

The first post on the @17minutesofsolidarity Instagram account shows González along with a caption focused on gun reform. Scrolling through their Instagram posts, it’s obvious that this message was diluted over time. We hope that this initial spirit is still present within the student body, and we know that if we can only make our own rules, we have the power to make real change.