Portland State students walked out of class Wednesday, March 14 to take part in a nationwide student-led protest for gun reform and to honor those killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla. last month.
Hundreds of participants gathered at 10 a.m. in PSU’s Urban Center Plaza for 17 minutes to represent the 17 shooting victims. Several students and university employees called for Congress to pass gun control measures and urged protest participants to support gun control with their votes.
“An overwhelming number of Americans want sensible gun reform, and we are demanding our legislators act on it,” said Coordinator of Student Government and Advisor for Greek Life Candace Avalos over a loudspeaker. “We will not sit on the sidelines while our futures hang in the balance because the government that is supposed to protect us is more interested in filling [its] pockets [with] money from [gun lobbyists].”
Attendees held a moment of silence for the victims and read their names and ages aloud. Associate Students of PSU Judicial Review Board Chair Joshua Friedlein, who personally experienced the 2015 Umpqua Community College shooting, also read aloud the names of the UCC victims.
“Students have the right to learn in an environment free from the fear of being gunned down in their classroom,” Friedlein said. “We all have the right to live free of the fear of gun violence in our homes, in our schools, in our communities, and in our places of worship.”
The national demonstrations, dubbed #Enough: National School Walkout, were planned by the Women’s March organization Youth EMPOWER branch. According to the organization’s website, over 3,000 schools registered for the walkouts, including elementary schools and universities.
University Communications said in a statement it neither supported nor opposed the walkout, but asked that faculty not penalize students who chose to participate or abstain from the event.
“As a public university, we are neutral on political demonstrations,” stated Kenny Ma, director of media and public relations at PSU. “We want participation to be a personal decision. The university respects the right of the PSU community to participate in peaceful demonstrations.”
Many other schools across the country took a neutral stance to the demonstrations, but some schools in Eugene, Ore. warned that students could receive unexcused absences for participating. Some Portland Public Schools, on the other hand, framed the walkouts as educational opportunities and encouraged students to participate.
Speakers also encouraged participants to use their votes to support gun control and pointed the crowd to canvassers ready to help people register. “If Congress refuses to take action and change gun laws to better protect us and our fellow Americans,” Friendlein said, “then we will go to the polls in November and we will change Congress.”
“I think people [need to] get involved and realize that we have power,” said graduate student Marcus Bush. “We have a voice [and] there are elected officials who aren’t doing their job and we need to vote them out.”
Attendee Vania Lucio echoed a general crowd sentiment when she commented, “[the walkout is] relevant to everybody because it could be us [next] and people never know [when].”