Charlottesville High School students walked out of class Thursday afternoon, demanding action from adults in power to prevent tragedies like Tuesday’s mass shooting at an elementary school from ever happening again.
“We wanted to take action. We’re the youth, we’re the future and our government isn’t doing anything to protect us,” said Sephira Ainsworth, a sophomore and one of two CHS students who organized the walkout. “So if they’re not going to create a good future for us, I guess it’s up to us, which honestly really sucks. Nobody else is doing anything, so we had to.”
An 18-year-old with no connection to the school shot and killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday. It was the deadliest school shooting since 2012. The events have led public school students across the country, including students in Charlottesville, to speak out and demand the government take action toward gun reform.
At about 1 p.m., hundreds of CHS students made their way from the school and into the streets across from the school. Charlottesville Police shut down Melbourne Road leading to part of John Warner Parkway for the duration of the demonstration to prevent cars from driving into the march.
Ainsworth and her friend Gabi Colón, also a sophomore, decided to organize the demonstration after learning Wednesday night about a larger nationwide walkout movement from Students Demand Action, a national student-led organization that lobbies for gun violence reform. Students at schools across the country participated in similar walkouts Thursday afternoon as part of an organized effort from the organization.
“We wanted to be part of this nationwide effort, because the louder and the more voices there are, the more change will happen,” Ainsworth said.
Ainsworth and Colón said they alerted school administration in the morning that they were organizing a walkout, but the demonstration was entirely student-led. Some CHS school counselors were on hand to monitor the demonstration and provide support to students if needed.
Students chanted “grades up, guns down” and “What do we want? Action! When do we want it? Now!” as they walked toward John Warner Parkway. Several students carried handmade signs with sayings such as “I want to read books, not eulogies” and “18th century laws can’t regulate 21st century weapons.”
Students passed around a megaphone and shared their feelings and frustrations.
“We live in a country where the rights of metal murder tools are more valued than the rights of living breathing humans,” Ainsworth said to the crowd.
Some students voiced anger at politicians that have focused efforts on banning critical race theory and LGBTQ education in schools instead of focusing on gun reform.
“[Some students] can’t learn about racism, they can’t learn about what the word gay means, they can’t learn about sex ed and now some kids can’t learn about anything because they were killed in school,” one student said.
The organizers read the names of the students and teachers killed in the shooting in Uvalde as well as the names of the 11 people killed in a racism-motivated shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York less than two weeks prior, and held a moment of silence. The students also took time to acknowledge how gun violence disproportionately affects people of color and that the majority of the victims in both shootings were people of color.
“I’m scared to leave my house, that I might not come back alive, because I’m Black,” one student told the crowd.
Ainsworth and Colón said they want the adults in power in the government to understand that students are terrified another mass shooting could happen at their school.
“It’s terrifying. When you go into a new classroom, you locate the windows, look where you could hide up into the ceiling vents, if you could find a closet to hide in,” Ainsworth said. “Yes this shooting happened Tuesday, and that’s why we’re protesting today, but this is our normal … this has been our reality for all of public school. We started doing lockdown drills in elementary school.”
Colón said that since school shootings aren’t a new problem and students have gotten used to practicing for the potential of a mass shooting, it frustrates her that there haven’t been widespread reforms.
“We’ve been doing these things since we were young and nothing has changed. The government can’t keep placing responsibility on us to stay alive. We need gun reform now,” Colón said.