Walk Out Crowd

During the Iowa State National School Walk Out on April 20th, students from all walks of life gathered to hear more about gun violence and honoring those who have been impacted by it. 

Under the partly sunny skies and light winds, about 60 to 65 students, faculty and staff migrated outside of Parks Library to participants in advocacy happening around the nation at 10 a.m.

The walkout is one of many in the nation taking place on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.

The event was organized by student members of Society for Advancement of Gender Equity (SAGE) and ISU College Democrats. The event started with a moment of silence to recognize individuals who had been killed by gun violence.

Eleven participants, a mixture of organizers and attendees, stood holding signs over their heads with statistics on gun violence during the moment of silence.

At the conclusion of the silence, those holding the signs turned them over at the same time to show the phrase, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Vote them out.”

First to speak of the planned speakers was Julian Neely, newly elected student body president, who led participants in chants most famously used during Black Lives Matter marches.

“In this moment, I hope we include everything that we discussed in the statistics that were presented to us” Neely said.

Neely said when discussing gun violence it is not just about the school shootings in middle schools and high schools, but it is also the death of African Americans, people killed due to domestic violence and intimate relationships that involve gun violence.

“There’s a wide variety of things that happen that are impacted because of the utilization of guns,” Neely said.

Neely told attendees just participating in rallies and walkouts was not enough; there was more to do such as becoming more politically active.

“I challenge you all, what are you all going to do next?” Neely asked attendees. ”You all have a power, being a citizen of the United States, to be able to vote, utilize it, educate yourself on making sure you are making the correct vote.”

Neely reminded those in attendance of the upcoming elections in November, urging people to be prepared for the election through education but also by being registered to vote.

Following Neely, Malik Burton, president of Black Student Alliance, addressed attendees, standing on top of one of the tables outside of the library.

“As we take a moment to remember the lives lost to mass shootings across the nation and within our school systems, let us also not look past the reality that gun violence is a constant adversary to the black identity and it has been a weapon of choice for our demise,” Burton said.

Burton said the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, was a shooting he would remember and  produced the feelings of nerve and uneasiness.

“That same feeling of nerve and uneasy flowing through my body is a daily feeling for black people,” Burton said.

Burton told attendees twice that his speech was not to be a protest among the protest going on.

“I am simply saying that black people have been making major moves to call for the same gun reform within the police department,” Burton said. “It is majority teenagers also students who are dying at an alarming rate.”

Burton also spoke of reaching out to legislation, but also for society and the justice system to recognize the lives of African Americans.

Last of the planned speakers was Bridget Johnston, senior in music, who delivered a poem to the crowd.

Starting with the Columbine High School shooting, the poem reflected on the major school shootings throughout the last 19 years.

“Instead of protesting assault weapons in the hands of 18-year-old boys and bump stocks being sold like fashionable accessories,” Johnston said during the reading of the poem. “Now it is the job of our children to pacify their violent peers.”

Johnston spoke against people blaming the victims of school shootings and using the sympathizing justifications toward the school shooters such as how many of the perpetrators were viewed as troubled or needed to be acknowledged by their peers.

“Those kids didn’t walk up, now they’ll just never wake up,” Johnston said, referring to the 20 elementary children killed in the Sandy Hook School shooting by the 20-year-old perpetrator.

Johnston spoke of the nine individuals killed at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. They walked up to their perpetrator and welcomed him in only to be murdered by him.

Mentioning the recent school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14 Johnston said some of the victims may not have met their killer prior to the day of their deaths because he was expelled from school for his behavior but people still say they can take blame for his retaliation.

“If you don’t invite him over for dinner, 17 school children have to pick up the tab.” Johnston said.

Johnston also said near the end of her reading in current times people walk to parents who lose their children to gun violence and ask them what did the children do to deserve to die.

“I'd rather be challenging the authority to cut that rhetoric and think before pulling the trigger on this movement because today we are shouting to the capitol building that we deserve to live,” Johnston said.

Following the planned speakers, more attendees spoke including students and faculty.

A few students spoke about how mental health has a played a role in the gun debate. 

Another student with involvement in the student organization, To Write Love On Her Arms spoke of the need for the state of Iowa to have better access to mental health care.

Emily Southard, senior in agriculture and society, said moving forward it was important to take action whether it would be to reach out to local representatives or engage in conversations with others around the debate of gun violence.

For Magdah Bresh, freshman in psychology, and Zamzam Ali, freshman in industrial engineering, who both identify as women of color, it was important for them to see representation of communities that can be overlooked in the discussion around these issues.

“By listening to everyone today, it was very moving. I almost cried,” Ali said.

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