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Michigan students participate in nationwide walkout to support school safety, gun control

All across the country, students and some teachers stood up at 10 a.m., walked out of their classrooms, and spent the next 17 minutes honoring the 17 people killed in the Parkland, Florida high school shooting.

Many schools in Michigan took part in this national school walkout, demanding action from lawmakers on school safety and guns.

Nearly 3,500 Ann Arbor students participated in the walkouts, including at Pioneer High School, where junior Sarah Lewis co-organized the event.

“I want there to be a big message sent out that teens do have a voice. And that we may not be able to vote now. But we're gonna be voting. And we are the future and we are change.”

Students Lucy Nordin and Deborah Fagan register to vote at the Riverside Park protest.
Credit Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio
Students Lucy Nordin and Deborah Fagan register to vote at the Riverside Park protest.

The crowd outside Pioneer mulled around, with the occasional chant breaking out. At one point, all of the students were yelling, “We call BS,” the rallying cry featured in a viral video of Parkland student Emma Gonzalez.

The walkout marks the one month anniversary of the Parkland shooting, but unlike past mass shootings, the talk of gun control and school safety has not diminished.

Pioneer senior Eddie Zhou says that this time is different because of student activism.

“Student power is real. Students can organize stuff. We have a voice and we can use it if we so choose to as we're doing today.”

After a moment of silence, most students went back to class.

But some from Pioneer went to join a gathering a few miles away, where students from across the region gathered in Riverside Park in Ypsilanti to continue the protest.

Students continued the protest at Riverside Park in Ypsilanti.
Credit Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio
Students continued the protest at Riverside Park in Ypsilanti.

The Washtenaw Youth Initiative has taken up the activism started by the survivors of the Parkland shooting. Students Emma Roth, Max McNally, and Marquan Kane organized the group.

“Things need to change,” says Emma Roth. “We need to take a stand. Thoughts and prayers don’t really do anything. It’s laws that do things. And that’s what we’re pushing for.”

The Initiative advocates for no guns in schools, age restrictions on gun purchases, and reinstating the assault weapons ban. They’re also calling for changes in Washtenaw county specifically, such as gun buyback programs and police demilitarization.

Emma Roth and Marquan Kane
Credit Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio
Emma Roth and Marquan Kane are both 18 years old, but they're already concerned about the safety of those younger than themselves.

The students know that protest alone won’t change laws. Many registered or pre-registered to vote, vowing to vote out politicians that allow gun violence to continue.

“We don’t want any more school shootings. We don’t believe students should be shot,” Roth said.

These students, young as they are, already have concern for the next generation of kids.

“The most important for me today actually happened before the rally,” says 18 year old Marquan Kane. “I was about to walk out the door, and I stopped and paused and I looked at my little sister, and I gave her a hug. I had a conversation with her… I asked her if she felt safe at school, I asked her what did she think about what was happening. And that’s probably the most important thing because while this issue is impacting me, it’s gonna be even worse for my younger sister.”

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