Credit: Matt Cohen

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Across the nation, tens of thousands of students walked out of their classrooms as part of a mass demonstration calling for stronger gun-control legislation exactly one month after the shooting at Parkland Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. While most of the walkouts in other cities and states were expected to last 17 minutes (to honor the 17 people who died in the Parkland shooting), in the D.C. area, thousands of students gathered at the White House and marched to the U.S. Capitol. 

Many students who participated in today’s protest said they feel unsafe in their schools.

“Every time I hear a noise in the hallway, I think it’s a shooter,” said 16-year-old Ilana Maiman, a student at Walt Whitman High School. Maiman, along with 15-year-old Anna Labarca, skipped school today to march. “In my English classroom there’s just one exit and that’s the only one you can go in and out,” Labarca added. “There are no windows or anything. I really don’t think hiding in a corner is going to protect us from a shooter with an assault rifle.”

Fifteen-year-old Sarah Derr also feels unsafe in school and many other places because of the nation’s gun laws.”For me, personally, I’ve been really paranoid in places where there are big groups because I just worry that something is going to happen,” she said. On her wrist, she wrote her name and her mom’s phone number “in case something terrible were to happen” during today’s protest.

But as the students assembled in front of the Capitol, their tone switched from fear to anger: Chants of “Do your job!” and “Shame on you!” erupted as House and Senate staffers and visitors entered and exited the building. Eventually, a number Democratic lawmakers came out to greet the protesters, including Sen. Bernie Sanders. “All across this country, people are sick and tired of gun violence, and the time is now for all of us together to stand up,” he said as the students screamed in support. Matt Cohen

While Democratic leaders have pledged to fight for gun control, the students wanted their message to get reach Republican lawmakers as well. “I don’t want somebody to come in and end a lot of people’s lives,” said Sophie Derr, 17. “I don’t think we have enough regulations and most of the Second Amendment was made in the 1800s and it’s not relevant now.”

On March 24, a larger protest, the March For Our Lives, will take place in cities around the world. Organizers expect 500,000 people to attend the D.C. gathering.

Sophie Derr is optimistic that the unified voices of students across the country can lead to change. “You have thousands of people here who are all fighting for the same thing,” she said. “How can you ignore that? How can you not take the future of America’s interest in mind when you walk into [the Capitol]?”

Credit: Matt Cohen