Politics & Policy

Inside the Schools’ Gun-Control Walkouts

Students sit on West 62nd Street in New York City during the National School Walkout, March 14, 2018. (Mike Segar/Reuters)
Perhaps not every schoolkid is worthy of our elected officials’ ear and a vote.

Chelsea, New York City — It was just past 10:00 a.m. when the scuffle almost became a fight. According to one student, a boy had been throwing ice at a girl, and she retaliated. The crowd surged away from the nexus of the disagreement, giving the pair space. After a blur of red and black (her hair) seemed to collide with a blur of tan (his shirt), the other students, packed into the eastern half of 17th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues, refocused their attention on chanting.

“NRA, go away!”

Thirteen minutes later, four minutes until the end of the seventeen they had been allotted to remember the victims of the Parkland shooting–slash–protest gun ownership, violence was restored: Several students began moshing — throwing themselves violently against one another — in the hole opened for the fight. One student threw a piece of a bagel at a classmate. Two hoisted a third on their shoulders and bounced him around. Meanwhile, some of the younger students broke their solemnity — on a basketball court adjacent to the school, they were silently standing in a U shape — to peek through a fence at their older colleagues’ revelry.

“What do we want? Gun control! When do we want it? Now!”

At around 10:20, the staff, up to this point having recused themselves from responsibility for controlling the chaos churning around them, blew their whistles and signaled the students that their time was up. So ended New York City LAB High School’s contribution to the national school walkout.

In sum, more than 3,000 schools participated in the walkout, which was scheduled to take place at 10:00 a.m. today, the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shooting, and last 17 minutes, in remembrance of the 17 lives lost. The youth branch of the Women’s March, the walkout’s organizers, branded it as a show of force by a broken community, injured by the attack at Parkland and Congress’s inaction on gun-control legislation. In this spirit, they requested that only students or school staff participate.

It certainly didn’t offer any evidence that the maturity level of high schoolers has been grossly miscalculated.

That didn’t stop the walkout from expanding to, in New York City alone, Times Square, Washington Square Park, and, of course, the exterior of Trump’s hotel. Even New York governor Andrew Cuomo, hardly a schoolchild, showed up, lying down with protesters at Zuccotti Park in the Financial District, a veritable Caesar marching into battle with his troops — or a lamb lying down on Broadway, had he been a block east.

These large, well-organized, media-heavy rallies at centralized locations eclipsed the smaller, more private school walkouts, leading to the overall event being characterized as a widespread success, proof that children are mature enough to vote on these issues and a big enough force to make a difference when they can vote, as they were willing to eschew their academic responsibility in order to do what’s right.

I didn’t get that sense. In fact, what I saw was just the opposite.

For one, LAB’s demonstration wasn’t rebellious at all. Police blocked off the street while the students were outside, and the staff seemed fine with letting the students participate; the high school advertised it on Twitter and the middle school in a press release on the Web.

Further, it certainly didn’t offer any evidence that the maturity level of high schoolers has been grossly miscalculated. Just moments after leaving the school, for example, three of the students mounted a parked bottled-water-delivery truck and began dancing around. After they jumped off, the driver pulled away and another student hopped on the back, riding it down the street for a few seconds. Only a few students even had signs. The younger students on the basketball court had to be told multiple times to focus: “This isn’t a social event. This isn’t a joke.”

The LAB demonstration gave me reason to doubt the narrative and instead suggested that perhaps the average walkout looked more like LAB’s, not like the ones populated by adults downtown. It gave me reason to believe that perhaps many of the kids participating weren’t doing so out of a deep passion for progressive politics, but because they were instructed to, because their friends were doing it, or because they wanted to leave class. Most important, it told me that perhaps not every schoolkid is worthy of our elected officials’ ear and a vote.

I gave an average high-school kid my ear this morning. I heard, “Guns are gay! Go away!”