More than 2,000 students walked out of Green Hope High School on Wednesday to demand political changes to try to end school gun violence following the recent Florida school shooting massacre.
The majority of Green Hope’s 2,900 students walked out of the Cary school to gather on the football field and hear from fellow students and elected officials who called for changes such as stronger gun-control laws. Some of the most impassioned pleas Wednesday during the 75-minute walkout came from two Green Hope students who used to attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed on Feb. 14.
“This is not a political issue that we should be divided on, but one that should unite us to strive towards a common goal,” said Green Hope student Deb Bhattacharya, who fought back tears as she recalled her former Florida classmates. “Never again should any school go through the pain that Parkland is facing still.
“We must spark that change. We must push for reform and be a part of something bigger than ourselves.”
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More school walkouts are expected in Wake County and throughout the nation. The Women’s March Network has called for students around the country to walk out on March 14 for 17 minutes – one minute for each person killed at Stoneman Douglas.
Students from at least two Wake schools, Apex High and Apex Friendship High, have announced they plan walkouts on March 14. With students at many other schools also expected to hold events, Wake school officials are telling students they won’t be punished for the protests if they work ahead of time with their principals to make sure the events are safe.
On Wednesday, Green Hope staff also left the building to monitor the students, who were holding signs with slogans such as “We Demand Change.” Students recited multiple chants: “Two, four, six, eight, Congress must legislate!” “How strong! Douglas strong!” “Spread love, not hate, we just want to graduate.”
“People I knew were killed all because some animal with a gun thought he was entitled to take lives,” said Green Hope student Megan Sharma, one of the former Stoneman Douglas students. “I have had enough. I cannot let another community go through the devastation that me and my community have gone through.
“This violence needs to stop. It has no place in schools.”
Some conservatives have criticized Wake’s actions, questioning the district’s insistence that it’s not taking a political position on issues such as gun control by working with students holding the events.
“This absolutely is about politics,” tweeted Michael Pritt of Wake Forest. “@WCPSS changed their conduct policy, sent letters, made phone calls, and even had reporters push for one agenda & exactly this type of behavior #WalksLikeADuck.”
Organizers have insisted the event is apolitical, with Green Hope senior Peyton Barish tweeting that “we have attempted to contact almost every Republican representative in the area, and so lack of support is not due to lack of trying.”
During the event, students read letters from Democratic elected officials, including U.S. Rep. David Price and Gov. Roy Cooper.
The event also attracted three Democratic elected officials: Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, Morrisville Mayor TJ Cawley and Morrisville Councilman Steve Rao. Chaudhuri drew applause when he called for more school nurses and school psychologists, gun violence restraining orders and universal background checks.
All three politicians also urged the students to stay involved in the political process, especially when they turn 18 and can vote.
“We need the voices of students in the General Assembly,” Chaudhuri said. “We need your voices lifted so we can make sure that something like Parkland never ever happens in Wake County or in North Carolina.”
The rally ended with Raina Lee, Green Hope’s sophomore class president, telling students they would receive a contact list of North Carolina elected officials. Lee said the students need to contact their elected officials, especially “the ones who don’t support us.”
“And the ones that don’t protect us, the ones that aren’t doing their jobs, we’ll vote them out,” Lee said to cheers. “We’ll vote them out and keep voting them out until someone makes a change.
“So to all people who have the power to do something, our eyes are on you. We will be watching and we will be waiting. Enough is enough.”