On February 21, one week after a former student with an AR-15 murdered 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, students around the country walked out of their schools and into protests in support of meaningful gun-control laws.
In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, nearly 100 high-school students from Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) left their school building and marched to a downtown commercial square, where they joined hands and observed 17 minutes of silence. The goal, according to the protest’s media liaison, senior Serena Zets, was to “express solidarity with the students in Parkland and show [gun violence] is not only an issue that affects individual schools and individual people, but a societal issue we need to reckon with as a country.”
In the aftermath of the shooting in Parkland, senior Christian Carter, one of three lead organizers of the protest, said he had been alarmed when he noticed that classmates and teachers weren’t talking about the shooting. “At CAPA we’re used to having conversations about what’s going on in the news,” he said. “But we didn’t talk about it, we didn’t have a conversation about these shootings.” He and the other organizers of the march spread word of the walkout plan on social media.
“No one stopped us as we left the building,” said Senior Nia Arrington, another lead organizer of the action. “They held the doors open for us. They called the police to escort us down there.… [principal] Ms. [Melissa] Pearlman stood in the office and waved us goodbye.” Students said teachers knew about the planned walkout and that many expressed support.
Zets was surprised by the turnout. As one of its leaders, she was at the front of the march and could only see the 10 people in front of her and 10 behind. But by the time the group had made it a block away from the school, she turned around to see 80 more trailing behind. She said that rumors of punishment by the school administration deterred many others from participating.
Carter said he remembered “looking at every single one of those kids’ faces” and appreciating “the beauty in seeing so much diversity in our walkout.” “It was three black kids who planned, who were the faces of our walkout, who organized it,” he said, referring to himself, Arrington, and senior Anyah Jackson. “I saw so many kids from CAPA who don’t shut up at school, so for them to stand—for students, for students to stand—for 17 minutes and not talk, there’s something powerful about that,” Carter said.
In Market Square, Arrington stood in the middle of the circle of students and addressed the crowd. “If our politicians won’t lead us—if our politicians won’t make change, we make that change!” she said. “The students, when we come together, it’s something powerful.…We will not be divided; we will not be locked out; we will not stop.”