Across the country, more than 2,500 17-minute classroom walk-outs were planned on Wednesday, March 14 at 10 a.m. according to the youth subsection of the Women’s March called EMPOWER. The planned walkouts were a mass attempt by students, teachers, and other school staff to urge lawmakers to enforce stricter gun laws. The tragedy at Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, Florida that occurred last month has caused this uprising of students to pressure law makers to pass gun laws like banning assault weapons and requiring universal background checks before sales of firearms. Each of the 17 minutes is symbolic for one person who lost their life in the tragedy.
Women’s March Youth Empower is still in the midst of gathering data concerning just how many walkouts occurred but as of 1:33 p.m. on March 15, the number blossomed well passed the initial 2,500 mark to 3,136. Many of these students repeated the mantra “Never Again” which has also been heavily utilized as a social media hashtag (#NeverAgain) by students and likeminded individuals to bring their messages into the virtual world.
And the effects had already begun happening all over the country including here in Washington state. Senate Bill 5992 which bans bump stocks (using the recoil of a semi-automatic firearm to fire shots in rapid succession, which nearly mirrors fully automatic firearms) narrowly made it through the House and then Senate before being signed by Governor Jay Inslee on Tuesday, March 6. Washington is the fourth state to ban bump stocks joining: California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey.
Local high school students from Woodinville and Bothell have made their voices heard in numerous forums, even attending Northshore school board meetings and speaking during Public Comments. These students addressed boards, teachers, and the public at large about their worries about this kind of tragedy happening to them.
High school students presented powerful posters, poems, and speeches during their walkouts all over the Northshore school district. One student even had set up a table so her classmates could pick up materials to write letters to their senators. These high school students were not alone. Students even younger were joining the cause. Here in Woodinville, Timbercrest Middle School (19115 215th Way NE, Woodinville, WA 98077) has the motto “Respectful, Responsible, and Inclusive” which could not be heard higher or more loudly when students took it upon themselves to join the walkout. Shayma Khan, an American Muslim 14-year-old girl and eighth grader at Timbercrest, stood as a bastion of inspiration and courage when she spoke about keeping students safe on March 14 during the walkout. Khan was kind enough to grant me some of her time after what had to be an invigorating and busy day. “I spoke about keeping our students safe,” Khan told me during our phone interview. When I asked what made her want to protest in the first place she referenced Stoneman Douglas right away but continued her impassioned speech almost as if sparked by soliloquy; as if her thoughts were going to come out no matter her audience because she knows what she thinks to be monumentally important. She shared with me that her teachers and principal were very supportive and even encouraged the students. She explained to me that she did not want to worry about safety and to allow fear to affect her experience as a student; to limit her education because mentally she was in the terrors of what is becoming commonplace. Her worry for quick progress grounded her methods of thinking to me as being remarkably developed. As I thanked her for her courage and her power to stand up for what she believed in she assured me that things will only get better, “as long as people understand.” When I asked if there was anything else she would like to share, Khan said, “Everyone’s divided… We have to come together. We can’t sit back.”
I thanked Shayma for her time and asked if I could speak with mother, Noreen Khan. Noreen had answered the phone when I had called and the exuberance in her voice was soft but powerful. She knew that her daughter was doing wonderful things. When I thanked her for allowing me the time to speak her family Noreen replied telling me I was so welcome and added, “We are so proud of her.”
We at The Woodinville Weekly want to thank Varisha Khan, Shayma’s sister, for first reaching out to us. Varisha spoke how she was so happy that her young sister and her peers were so empowered and dedicated to utilizing their First Amendment rights.