High school students across the country walked out of class on Wednesday, March 15, to demonstrate against perceived inaction on gun violence. For 17 minutes, students marched on school campuses, wielding a message that adults in charge have failed the country’s youth. On Saturday, March 24, adults are expected join students during the March for our Lives national demonstration.
In Ventura County, hundreds of students joined in on the action. At approximately 10 a.m., students gathered, walked out of class and demonstrated, peacefully, to mixed reaction from school administrators.
At Ventura High School, over 500 students walked out, circling around campus in honor of the 17 students killed during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14. Students chanted, “Enough is enough,” as supporters stood along the sidelines.
The message was clear: “We have to keep fighting,” said senior Eric Martinez to the group of students gathered on the field of the school stadium. After the speech, students participated in a moment of silence for the victims of the Parkland shooting.
Martinez co-coordinated with fellow senior Philip Riley, 18, in organizing the walkout. Both are part of the Youth in Government group at Ventura High School and decided to help organize a demonstration to coincide with the national walkout while attending a Youth in Government convention in Sacramento. It was there that news of the Parkland shooting had reached them.
When the pair returned home, they began working toward the shared goal of having students demonstrate in a way that would be inclusive rather than something to promote a singular political agenda. For that reason, the March 15 walkout at Ventura High was focused on gun violence as a whole rather than on particular incidents such as school shootings.
“We wanted school safety, we wanted to be unified with the Parkland victims, but we didn’t call for any gun control legislation,” said Martinez, adding that domestic and gang violence are also on his radar. “The only thing we wanted was the demolishing of the Dickey Amendment.”
The Dickey Amendment, passed in 1996 with strong support from the National Rifle Association, was attached to federal budget appropriations stating that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”
“The CDC isn’t able to study gun violence across America,” said Riley. “To inform how Congress can make legislation nationally, they need hard data. That was the only specific piece, the only national agenda that we called for, besides the principles of safety in our schools.”
Martinez and Riley note that the Parkland shooting galvanized many people like themselves for several reasons: the ease with which the shooter purchased the AR-15 rifle used during the attack and the fact that there were one armed personnel on campus in order to prevent such a thing from happening. Further, Martinez adds that the “accumulation” of school shootings has driven his activism.
“I believe you can make the argument that there is a trend because of the lack of gun legislation in our country,” said Martinez.
At Fillmore High School, senior Lorenzo Anthony Palomera, 17, organized a gathering of around 150 students at the school’s quad, during which students were invited to write condolences to the families of the victims of the Parkland school shooting. Palomera said that he had planned to start a discussion, but that the group was more reserved than he had expected. Most of the students, however, added to a chain created by art students to express personal feelings on gun violence.
“It’s more about what the youth have to say about this issue because we’re the ones being affected by it, at least in schools,” said Palomera. “We’re the generation that has to grow up dealing with these issues.”
Palomera will be in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, March 24, and so will Philip Riley, going separately, to take part in the national March for our Lives event. In Ventura, over 500 people have responded on social media to attend a March for our Lives rally in downtown Ventura. Co-organizer India Hill, 15, a Ventura High School student, says that the march will be a “call for action.”
“I hope that we can push Congress into working on greater gun reform, in closing loopholes used to purchase guns,” said Hill, alluding to the so-called Brady Bill loophole, or gunshow loophole, which allows for the private sale of a firearm to an individual without requiring a background check. “Many of the shooters who commit mass murders purchased their guns legally and in ways that the law sees as safely, but they didn’t use the guns in a safe way, they used them to murder many innocent people.”
Hill will be legally able to vote, come the 2020 election, and she says she is “really excited” about it.
“I hope someday to go into politics,” said Hill. “I’m loving being able to be politically engaged.”
The March for our Lives event will begin at 10 a.m. at Plaza Park, 651 E. Thompson Blvd., in downtown Ventura. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/events/2080543158897694/.