by Dave Waddell
Hundreds of students of assorted ages poured into Chico’s City Plaza this morning, joining in a loud chant that didn’t let up for several minutes: “No More Silence, End Gun Violence.”
The students came from different campuses, ranging from Chico State to junior highs and charter schools, to participate in #Enough National School Walkout. The protest was inspired by the shooting deaths of 17 staff members and students Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Empower, the youth branch of Women’s March that helped in organizing events nationwide, had counted 3,136 walkouts at the time this story was posted.
More than 100 students marched from Inspire High School, a charter school housed on the Chico High School campus. Inspire students and others walked up the Esplanade and down Broadway, bearing their numerous signs most vigorously to the horns of passing supporters in vehicles. While the marchers were orderly, they also belted out their messages, including “Raise Up, Guns Down,” “We Call B.S.” and “Not One More.”
Due to a threat of rain, speeches about gun violence were moved from City Plaza to the Trinity United Methodist Church on East Fifth Street. On his way from the plaza to the church, Evan Kerr, an Inspire junior and walkout organizer, estimated the crowd in the plaza at about 400.
“We expect 600 by the end of the day, though,” said Kerr, hurrying off to his next speech while beginning a chant of: “1-2-3-4, We Want Gun Control.”
Rain Scher of the Chico Peace and Justice Center, which helped the students organize the event, told the students gathered at the church that gun violence “happens everywhere and it’s all connected.” Scher noted that March 17 will be the one-year anniversary of the killing by Chico police of Desmond Phillips, a young black man in mental crisis who was shot 11 times.
“Not one more person dying in the schools, and not one more person dying from police violence,” Scher said.
Student leaders of the walkout from Chico High estimated that about 1,000 students attended an on-campus protest, while about 20 actually left campus to attend the speeches at Trinity United.
Those students said the looming need to study for tests and truancy sanctions were outweighed by fears of getting killed in their own classrooms and hallways.
“The first thought when we go through a Code Red (drill at school) is, ‘Oh, it’s our turn,’” said Chico High senior Sophia Winter.
In the wake of the Parkland shooting, even a lower level drill, a Code Yellow, in which students are locked in their classrooms but instruction continues, can be stressful. Sophomore Bailey Christiansen, who left campus today (March 14) with her brother, senior Spencer Christiansen, said students “started freaking out” during a recent Code Yellow drill when a banging was created by a school employee checking a locked door from the exterior.
A few parents marched behind the students to downtown, including Sharon DeMeyer, whose daughter, Zoe Karch, is an Inspire senior and a leader of the walkout.
DeMeyer waved a sign she said she spent several hours creating that spelled out “#ENOUGH” in the pictured faces of victims of school shootings, including those who died at Columbine, Sandy Hook and Parkland.
“It was heartbreaking putting this together,” said DeMeyer. “I worried it was going to rain, so I covered it with packing tape.”
Dave Waddell is news director at ChicoSol.