By Evan Casey
“Life is not a partisan issue.” This statement was repeated many times by numerous students while standing hand in hand outside of Rufus King International High School last Wednesday in a march of remembrance for the seventeen students who were killed in a high school shooting in Florida last month.
More than 1,200 students and staff marched in silence around the school’s football field while the names of the students who were killed in the Feb. 14 Parkland, FL shooting were read aloud. The walkout and march were part of the National School Walkout that was intended to encourage lawmakers to take action on gun laws.
“They say that we are not activists,” said Rufus King student government members Ruth Fetaw and Morgan Coleman. “They say that we cannot be voices and agents for change, but on behalf of the 17 lives lost on a day that was supposed to be full of love…we say enough is enough.”
There were multiple protests planned at Milwaukee Public Schools including North and South Division, among others, according to the #Enough National School Walkout website. The number of students who decided not to participate in the march was not released.
MPS Superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver said in a letter released to parents before the march that she supports students in expressing their constitutional rights to assembly and peaceful protests. She also said that students are not required to participate. Dr. Driver was also present at the march and spoke to media following the event.
“As a superintendent, when people ask me what keeps me up at night, it’s keeping my children safe,” said Driver. “This was a student led initiative, and they said it best when they said life should not be a partisan issue.”
Olivia Schmitz also took part in the march. She said that she hopes that lasting change occurs because of the large numbers of students taking initiative.
“It was incredible to see everyone show up and taking this seriously,” said Schmitz. “Our school has had a week of action involving sessions of education relating to this issue. We will be holding letter writing campaigns and be contacting representatives as well.”
Pulaski High School issued a “code red” earlier in the day on Wednesday, after there were false reports of a gun on campus. Although there was no gun found, the lockdown was still a reminder that a shooting could occur at a moment’s notice.
Last week, the Trump administration proposed providing firearms training for some school personnel. Superintendent Driver offered her opinion on this new proposal.
“That argument is void of reason and rational thought,” said Driver. “Schools are a safe haven, and the idea of putting a weapon in a school is absolutely ludicrous.”
As the march came to an end and students met in the middle of the football field to speak to the school and media who had gathered there, a young student spoke through tears to share a story about her cousin whom she had recently lost to gun violence in Milwaukee.
“I just want to tell my cousin that I love him. All I have to say is that I just want it to stop, and I miss him.”