While more than 100 students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas were in Tallahassee Wednesday urging state lawmakers to enact stricter gun laws, high schoolers in South Florida attempted to keep alive the firestorm of protest sparked by survivors of last week’s school shooting.
Inspired by the Stoneman Douglas survivors’ #NeverAgain movement, teenagers at several schools in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, and in cities across the country, staged walkouts on Wednesday. In protests that were nearly synchronized, they chanted “We want change” and “No more guns,” hoping their collective voice would serve as an indelible backdrop to student-led lobbying efforts in Tallahassee.
Outside the Parkland school, where a troubled former student killed 17 people in a matter of minutes, a couple thousand teens who traveled from their schools demanded media attention as they protested near a memorial set up to honor the victims.
The commotion caused law enforcement to seal off Pine Island Road so students could move freely outside. Ahead of a Wednesday night CNN Town Hall about the shooting, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson stopped by to take in the sight.
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Fay Ollino, a 16-year-old junior from Taravella High in Coral Springs, walked for two hours to get to Stoneman Douglas.
The school’s principal allowed Ollino and her classmates to march across their athletic field but the students said it wasn’t enough.
“We need to be heard,” Ollino recalls telling the principal before leaving school and heading to Parkland.
“We just want our voices to be heard for change to happen. We don’t want to see another Douglas, another Pulse, another Columbine,” she said. “We just need change. We need to feel safe again.”
Valeria Gutierrez, a 16-year-old junior at Monarch High School in Coconut Creek, said she heard about a planned walkout at her school via social media. About noon, she and hundreds of her classmates traveled more than six miles to get to Stoneman Douglas.
Gutierrez said she was inspired by the passion and professionalism displayed by a group of Stoneman Douglas teens leading the charge to change gun laws in the state and nationwide. She wanted to show solidarity.
“They’re so strong and brave,” she said. “We shouldn’t be scared to go to our own schools.
“It’s hard to make a difference in America but I think we can,” she added.
Earlier in the day, students from a handful of schools in Miami-Dade County also took part in walkouts.
At Hialeah Senior High School, a couple hundred students walked out of classes and lunch periods to demonstrate for more restrictive gun control. Screaming at the top of their lungs and shaking the fencing between them and passing cars on East 49th Street, the students chanted “We want change!” in both English and Spanish as drivers honked their horns in agreement.
The students said they organized the rally with help from the school administration.
Betsy Subiros, a 15-year-old freshman, said last Wednesday’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas left her heartbroken because many of the kids were her age.
“They had so much to live for,” she said, holding a banner that said “Fear has no place in our school.”
“It feels good to be heard,” she added.
On Tuesday, before three buses of about 100 Stoneman Douglas students arrived in Tallahassee, the Florida House declined to hear arguments on a bill calling for the ban of assault weapons. But students hoping for action from the Legislature told their stories inside the Capitol Wednesday, touched by the level of support they continue to receive back home and across the world.
“WE could not be prouder of YOU,” tweeted survivor Emma González in response to a video showing students from West Boca Community High marching to Stoneman Douglas, a 12-mile trek, on Tuesday.
“THANK YOU SO MUCH,” echoed David Hogg, a classmate of González’s and a fellow “core member” of the #NeverAgain movement.
Miami-Dade and Broward County school systems were supportive of the student protests, as long as they remained peaceful and respectful.
“Miami-Dade County Public School students exercised their right to assemble peacefully at a number of district schools today,” said John Schuster, a spokesman for the school system. “Administrators report that students expressed their opinions respectfully, without disrupting the educational environment or violating school rules. Additionally, student organizers had discussed their plans to demonstrate ahead of time with a sponsor or administrator, as required by School Board policy, resulting in a day of student activity that did not result in injuries or serious incidents.”
Mara Mienheartt, an 18-year-old Stoneman Douglas alumna, said it was amazing to see so many focused teenagers coming together under a unifying cause.
“I hope that the youth won’t stop until we get a change,” she said.
Some students yelled into megaphones and others waved signs, but North Broward High junior Carly Dvorkin tried a different tack to console students overwhelmed by last week’s shooting.
And what better way than with a miniature pony named Butters?
All day long, students approached the 4-year-old horse and lowered their signs to pet him. Under the South Florida sun, Butters much appreciated the bottles of water his new friends would pour on him.
“It’s nice to see the community come together,” Dvorkin said.