On February 14th, 2018, this country suffered yet another devastating tragedy at the hands of a school shooter armed with an assault weapon. On February 14th, 2018, 17 lives were lost in Parkland, Florida, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In the weeks that have followed, the strength and determination of the young, but formidable, Parkland shooting survivors have served as a catalyst for change, demanding the attention of the country in an unparalleled fashion. On Wednesday, March 14th, driven by the conviction that it is the youth of today that will make changes tomorrow, students left schools across the nation by the hundreds and the thousands to take a stand on gun control. Today, March 24th, 2018, the March for Our Lives demonstration for stricter gun control, organized by the Stoneman Douglas student group #NeverAgain and the gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, will occur in the capital, with hundreds of sister events occurring across the globe.
In the past month, teens have proven that it is they who will forge the path to a safer, idealistic future. They have demonstrated that they, the frequently misunderstood, often doubted “Generation Z”, are in fact ferocious and unyielding in the face of adversity and will ensure that their voices are heard. This generation, dubbed the “Mass Shooting Generation” has something to say. They say no more. They say #NeverAgain. But what happens, when the adults, the parents, say something different?
Last Wednesday, the students of Mackinaw City High School (MCHS) in Mackinaw City, Michigan, joined students across the nation in a student-led protest for gun control, and in honor of the Parkland shooting victims. The ‘walkout’ took place in the form of an assembly that lasted 17 minutes, one minute for each victim, in which a junior at the school delivered an emotional speech regarding the importance of safety not only in schools, but in the nation as a whole. The movement was supported by the school staff, with the principal of the high school standing outside the gym doors, and respectfully allowing the students to protest as they felt necessary. The same, however, could not be said of the response from many adults in the Mackinaw City community.
According to Kayla Gallagher, a senior at Mackinaw City High School, “a majority of the adults and parents in [the] community were not supportive of the walkout. They took to Facebook to complain about the walkout… sharing why they thought the walkout was wrong.” In order to better understand the dissonance that occurred between teens and adults in this community where this movement was concerned, Zenzy spoke to three female high school students from Mackinaw Public School– two who participated in the walkout, and one who chose not to– about their perspectives on this movement, and the reactions from their community.
On the day of the walkout assembly, Kayla describes leaving her classroom at 9:58am, and walking to the gym with her fellow classmates. Upon entering, she could see that the scoreboard had 17 minutes on the clock. Her principal, and a few teachers entered the gym to hear a student give a speech on the topic of gun regulation. A police officer stood guard outside the door. Mya Claire Curth, another senior at MCHS, portrayed the mood as solemn, with Mya, Kayla and their peers feeling the significance of the moment resting heavily on their shoulders. As the clock buzzed and struck 00:00, the students silently filed out of the gym and re-entered their classrooms. In its entirety, the event was peaceful, restrained, and executed with purpose.
A third senior at Mackinaw High, whom we will refer to by the initial B, chose to remain behind in her classroom during the assembly. She explained that she “did not feel that [she] was well-informed about the exact reason behind the walkout” and therefore did not consider it fair to participate fully. She felt that “the walkout was about many different aspects, and not everyone attended for the same reasons”. Instead, B chose to remain behind, and silently pray for those who have lost their lives in classrooms throughout recent history, but most particularly in the Parkland shooting. She also prayed for those attending the walkout.
All three seniors contributed to this protest, despite their varying methods. All three seniors experienced the unexpected lash-back from the adult community. Upon the commencement of the walkout, Kayla describes how “adults and parents in [her] community… took to Facebook to complain about the walkout, and thought that what [the students] did during the 17 minutes was inappropriate.” The adults used social media to ask: “How many of those kids actually knew what they were representing? How many understood?”. Mya lamented that the adults did not understand “what the walkout was truly about”, with many parents convinced this was a protest against the second amendment, “when in actuality all [they] wanted was regulations to keep tragedies from re-occurring.” Some parents even went so far as to verbally attack students directly, arguing that “walkouts don’t solve anything, and that kids don’t know anything about gun rights.” The students were left shocked and dismayed in the wake of what was an overwhelmingly negative response to what they believed to be their right to protest, stand up for their beliefs, and be heard.
In an eloquent summary of what was an unjust, and disrespectful treatment of the youth community, Kayla expressed how she thought it “very unfair that adults are able to post their opinions freely on social media, yet argue that students shouldn’t have been allowed to voice their own opinions about gun violence and school safety.” The significance that one may derive from this hypocrisy, is that one opinion matters more than another, not as a consequence of logic or reasoning, but solely due to age. B attempted to understand both sides of the argument, surmising that while it may be true that some students simply joined the assembly to skip class, “the majority of students felt that their voices needed to be heard about their rights and safety, and protested peacefully according to the rules that [the] school encouraged.” This demeaning response angered and saddened the youth community in Mackinaw, with Mya glumly concluding that they were “verbally attacked for standing up for what [they] believed in. You would think that in 2018 things would be different, but sadly they aren’t.”
Standing up for your beliefs is difficult in any circumstance, yet it is particularly challenging when parents, mentors and guides in the community show resistance. However, it is in these moments that taking a stand is most important. It is now that we must remember that age is not a determinant of intelligence, social engagement, or the right to be heard. The students of Mackinaw City High School displayed courage and resilience when they fought to express their opinions in the face of their elders urging them to remain quiet. It is this same resolution that we must show today, and every day going forward, as we are the leaders of the future, and we are determined to make the world a better place. As B, a high schooler, a teenager, so rightly declared: “If America is to be a lasting leader in the world, our generation must be poised to take control after our current leaders are gone. If we want to change our world for the better, we must take action to save those who will make this change”.
COVER IMAGE: Mar Ordonez