2018-03-15 / Front Page

'Walk-in' Replaces Walkout at MHS

By Christopher Allen

Marin Holden at the Middletown High School assembly on March 14 to show solidarity for the remembrance of the Florida shooting. 
(Photo by Meri Keller) Marin Holden at the Middletown High School assembly on March 14 to show solidarity for the remembrance of the Florida shooting. (Photo by Meri Keller) A two-hour school delay, due to Tuesday’s March 13 blizzard, didn’t stop Middletown High School students from sticking to their plan for an assembly-style “walk-in” on Wednesday, March 14, to shine a spotlight on gun violence and school safety.

In response to the mass shooting at Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School a month ago, local student organizers were spurred to action, joining the nationwide protest that was held at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, across the country.

The local event, which took place in the Middletown High School gymnasium, began with a 17-second moment of silence in honor of the 17 Parkland victims.

Hannah Gibbison, a primary organizer of the student action, then read off the names and short biographies of every shooting victim, while a few of her classmates circled the perimeter of the gym floor, holding individual placards showing the names and faces of the deceased in black and white.

Some of the readings included harrowing details of victims’ personal sacrifices in response to the violent attack.

Gibbison ended her speech with a poignant exclamation. “These are the 17 victims,” she said. “Every one of us can find something similar [to us] in one of these kids. We need to come together as a community. Enough is enough.”

Student Government President Julia Psaras, another organizer, said that students initially utilized the social media application Instagram to get the word out, by creating an account titled “401walkout.”

“We started as a small group,” she said. “The administration was very supportive. They want to make sure our voices are heard.”

Psaras said that a consensus was eventually reached that a meeting in the gym would be most effective. “We wanted to get [all of] MHS involved,” she said.

Junior Class President Maddie Olaynack was on vacation when the Parkland tragedy occured. Olaynack pointed out that similar social movements often gain traction initially through those most directly affected.

“These school shootings are devastating,” she said. “Now that it has affected high school [students], we have the ability to make a change.”

History teacher Jennifer Haskell said a few words in support of the students’ political involvement. “You have the ear of America now,” she told the assembly.

“Now is the time for you to take action. I want you folks to feel empowered.”

Haskell suggested that students begin to think about future mass organization in the form of a PAC (Political Action Committee), in addition to the school safety committee already in the works.

After the student body gathered up their belongings to continue the school day, Gibbison and a group of her classmates said they were just getting started. They were following the morning protest with a trip to the Rhode Island State House, in Providence, to continue.

The State House rally, organized by such groups as the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence, was held at 2 p.m. Gibbison said she hoped that elected lawmakers on all levels take notice of this movement.

“This is not a one-day process,” she said. “Next election, I’ll be able to vote. And I’m not voting for anyone who does not support helping to put an end to this issue,” she said. “If you stand by us, I want to vote for you.”

When asked if her parents supported her decision to leave school for a political protest, Gibbison said that the students heading up to the capitol had the parents in their corner.

“My mom fully supports me,” she said. “She gave me a note.”

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