A Rhinelander High School junior is taking to social media to encouraging her classmates to take part in national walkout tomorrow morning aimed at protesting gun violence and commemorating the one-month anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that left 17 people dead and several wounded.
Part of the #Enough movement that has seen the survivors of the shooting become impassioned spokespersons for common sense gun law reform, the event grew out of the youth branch of the Woman's March group. What started as a single planned event quickly grew to thousands of planned walkouts that are scheduled to start at 10 a.m. in every time zone in the country and last for 17 minutes, one minute for each person killed in the Florida shooting.
"Students and staff have the right to teach and learn in an environment free from the worry of being gunned down in their classrooms or on their way home from school," the group says on their Facebook page calling for the walkout. "Parents have the right to send their kids to school in the mornings and see them home alive at the end of the day."
RHS junior Emma Hjelle is one of the local organizers and has taken to Facebook to spread word about the walkout.
"There are two parts to the march," she said. "The first is the narrative of reforming gun control in this country. And the second part, which is the main basis, in my heart, is it for remembering and accounting for the 17 victims of the Parkland school shooting."
The #Enough student movement started with a single announced event that went viral thanks to social media.
"I saw it on social media and I have a few friends in Madison at a couple different schools who are marching to the capital and marching to the parks in protests and stuff," Hjelle said. "But at first, I didn't really think anything of it."
As student council president, a classmate asked Hjelle if the student council would be doing anything in conjunction with the walkout.
"I talked to a few other people in the locker room after our soccer workout and a lot of other people in the locker room were interested," she said. "I talked to some other friends and I realized that there was a definite interest, but so many of my peers didn't know how to do about participating in this. So I talked to the student council advisor Mrs. (Ali) Johnson and she sent me a few links and said it was a student run thing, so if you want to do it, it's kind of on you."
Hjelle said she then went to the high school and district administration to get approval.
School District of Rhinelander superintendent Kelli Jacobi said the district is prepared in the event the organizers go through with their plans.
"The principals have been on this. I met with them so that they were up to speed on the whole situation and the articles that have come out and the importance of supporting them (the students) if they chose to do so," Jacobi said. "Obviously we can't force them to, so we have to have supervision in multiple locations so that all of our staff is outside. We are working with them (the student organizers) so that they go into it with a plan."
She added that there will be no disciplinary action taken against students who take part in the walkout.
Jacobi said the walkout will not be disruptive and school administrators will not try to stop the students if they wish to take part. Jacobi said students will be given an opportunity during the walkout to speak out if they have plans to do that.
"There will be a plan in place, working with the high school," she said. "If the students decide, and they don't normally plan well in advance, there is a plan in place so that there is supervision for all, that it's not totally messing up the schedule of the day."
Jacobi said that the goal for the advance planning is the safety of those students who decide to take part.
"I have a concern that this will come to everyone's attention as the date nears," she said. "That means that people that could be armed and could be looking to do harm could be waiting outside schools for the opportunity as all of the students leave the building. We want to keep them (students) safe, too, and that is much easier to do when we are helping them come up with their plans, to make sure that we have additional law enforcement present."
Hjelle said she has drawn inspiration from the survivors of the Valentine's Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and how outspoken they have become in the gun control date in the last month.
"I absolutely believe that the political climate in the United States needs to change," she said. "I firmly believe that no matter your stance on gun reform; whether you're in favor of it or you're not, we need to have conversations,"
Hjelle hopes, whether they participate in the walkout or not, her classmates will use the walkout as an opportunity to get educated on the issue of gun reform so they can form their own opinions on the issue.
"I think that this walkout, along with a lot of other walkouts, marches and protests, are really beneficial because they cause people to start having conversations," she said. "And I think that is really where the change can occur, where the change does occur. For instance, last (week) I posted on Facebook about the opportunity that RHS has with this walkout, immediately I had people messaging me, commenting on my post their opinions. It seemed that for every opinion that was opposed to this, there was an opinion that was in favor of it. And I think that is really, really important because when those two sides can come together, that is when people stop their ignorance and come to a conclusion and really learn from each other."
She said that solutions to complex issues can only be found through discussion, not arguing.
"It's not about the right wing and the left wing; it's not about Republicans and Democrats, it's about bringing all of our ideas together and realizing that you have more similar ideas than we think," Hjelle said.
Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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