Walkout: Effective?

As the clock struck 12, Upper School students quietly shuffled out of their classes and free periods alike to convene on the courtyard. In the wake of a mass shooting that took the lives of 17 students and teachers at Stoneman-Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, Winsor’s walkout on February 21st commenced to protest inaction about gun control in Washington.

According to a poll conducted jointly by the Washington Post and ABC News, 77% of Americans believe that our Republican-controlled Congress has been intolerably slow to install mass shooting prevention measures. Certainly, that sentiment was echoed in the student body’s collective passion on Wednesday. “It’s empowering to see what happens when we all come together,” an anonymous source shared. “A call to action begins when people voice their concerns unabashedly.”

Winsor students did not let an absence of posters or a hastily made agenda thwart them from using their voices to propagate change. Using chants such as “Not today, NRA” and “Gun control is our goal,” students filed out of the school in solidarity, attracting the attention and even the verbal support of several Longwood Area students and residents.

And yet, walkouts are a contentious method when it comes to making political statements. On the one hand, walkouts can serve as a great medium for raising awareness within a localized area and sparking the need for change within the student body. “Especially for a topic like gun control, I think that walkouts are arguably the safest and most feasible way for people to speak out. Seeing as the people in charge aren’t doing anything positive in terms of gun regulation, I think it’s important for the people to find another way to have their voices heard,” shared Ifeanyi U. ‘20. With students from all corners of the country voicing their grievances about gun control, Congress is feeling the pressure to act immediately, to be sure.

On the other hand, walkouts don’t directly progress or regress political issues at hand because of a lack of interaction with legislative forces. Lia K. ’19 reflected that although the walkout was in certainly not ill-intended, there may have been more productive ways to voice our collective message: “That time could’ve been spent writing letters, signing petitions, calling reps, calling people in other states…I feel like it could’ve been used more effectively.” Some even argue that instead of assuming strictly political agendas, walkouts create opportunities for “lazy activists” to carry out their obligations to humanitarian causes. In the words of an anonymous source, “after movements like walkouts or marches, there’s a tendency to settle back into a dangerous cycle of inaction and ignorance…it’s almost too easy to sit back and say that you’ve done your job once you’ve partaken in one.”

Another important question illuminated by the walkout was our role as a private institution in voicing concerns about a public school incident. Selina L. ‘18 contends, “The walkout was founded on a lot of privilege, and public school systems don’t necessarily have the resources and the capacity to be able to support their students safely as much as Winsor does…we can have our things lying around and no one will steal it. That’s a privilege that not a lot of students have.” Certainly, public school security is taking the spotlight in the national debate about gun control; after all, with relatively more resources to devote to our security, private schools may not play as substantial a role in the conversation. Equally relevant when we discuss issues pertaining to race, class, and gender, our support as a school with relatively more privilege than others should stem from a place of solidarity, rather than altruism.

Nevertheless, the walkout brought awareness to an incident that was, on the whole, overlooked by the Winsor administration. Seemingly evaded during an opportune assembly block on Wednesday, the mass shooting demanded direct attention and action from the student body. “As I watched the videos and the news reports on the night of February 14th, I found comfort in knowing that when I went to school the next day, there would be dialogue about and recognition of the fact that 17 high school students, just like me, were killed the day before…When it wasn’t, I was disappointed and frustrated,” emphasized Casey H. ‘18. The walkout, then, was perhaps to some degree tinged with misgivings about Winsor’s own inaction regarding the shooting.

A brief skimming of Facebook will reveal student walkouts happening on both local and national scales over the next few months, with widespread ones occurring on March 14th and April 20th. Yet we must go forth remembering that to walk, to shout, to voice your opinions is simply not enough. It is time to flood the voice mailboxes of our senators, Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey (617-722-1276). It is time to sign petitions and read the news regularly. It is time to use your social media platforms to advocate for change and encourage your friends to do the same. After all, it could’ve been any one of us.