By ANIKET MEHROTRA
Over thirty students participated in a student led “die-in” in support of national walkouts held on Friday, April 20th to protest gun violence after the February Parkland shooting which left 17 students dead.
Friday also commemorated the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine Massacre where 12 students and one teacher were murdered by two high school seniors. The massacre is often credited for starting the modern gun debate.
The protest was organized by seniors Raina Zhao, Anahita Amirshahi, Anna Zeng, Ashley Yang, Cathy Sun and junior Teagan So.
Instead of a walkout, the organizers decided to engage in a non-disruptive “die-in.”
Participants of the “die in” laid down as if they were dead for 17 minutes to honor the 17 students killed in the Parkland shooting.
“The reason we decided not to ‘walk out’ was because I think it’s important to explore the multidimensionality of activism…and the different ways we can convey our messages,” Amirshahi said.
The student organizers acted in conjunction with over 2,700 high schools across the country, many of whom walked out of their classes in accordance with the National High School Student Walkout proposed by Connecticut sophomore Lane Murdock through a change.org petition after the Parkland shooting.
“Hopefully, this event today inspired some conversation to at least keep the topic [of gun violence and school shootings] on everyone’s minds, because it’s such an important issue,” Zhao said.
Senior Ryan Hane protested on Friday for his friends who were on the Las Vegas Stip when a gunman opened fire on a crowd at a music festival, killing 58 people in October last year.
“Seeing the impact that the shooting had on their lives really made me want to make sure something like that never happened again,” Hane said. “It was a reality check that this isn’t something that you just see online…it was the worst nights of their lives.”
Students who did not participate in the die-in, such as senior Neah Lekan, were also impacted by the protest.
“I don’t think any gun rights advocate in this country takes any happiness from these signs of these folks that have been killed,” Lekan said, in reference to the demonstrators’ posters. “So I think it’s a powerful protest, but I stand by the Second Amendment, and continue to believe that guns are a force for self-defense and self-actualization.”
Since the “die-in” was held during a break period, staff members, such as economics teacher Ms. Nora Seager, partially retain their right to engage civically and express their views, limitations not allowing teachers to protest during instructional time.
“To me it’s not just gun violence,” Seager said. “It’s the idea that people from outside the educational community would rather I get trained to have a weapon, when I think that money is better spent in reducing class sizes, or [hiring] more counselors.”
If these views are considered controversial, the school district retains the right to legally reprimand teachers.
In addition, the organizers put up posters with names of mass shooting victims across campus, and distributed official “price tags” from the March for Our Lives student protests held in March.
“[The price tags] represent how much each student is worth based on the donations to the politicians in our state made by the National Rifle Association (NRA),” Zeng said. “And in California, each of us would be worth a penny.”
Unlike the “walkout” in March which required several meetings with administration, the “die-in” warranted very minimal coordination because it occurred during lunch when students are permitted to engage in civic protects without consequences, according to district, state and federal law.
“I think our student leaders have a fairly good understanding of what things they need permission to do, and when they don’t,” Principal Kevin Astor said.
However, the organizers did send an email to Astor on Friday morning to explain what they were going to do that day. Without the required approval stamp from the Associative Student Body (ASB), they were worried their posters would be taken down by the administration.
Because the administration has the responsibility to meet the needs of all students, regardless of their personal beliefs or the beliefs of the community, Astor “willingly” stamped the organizers’ posters before the protest to accommodate the students rights to engage civically in a non-disruptive scenario.
“I really appreciate [Astor’s accommodation], because I thought we were going to get in trouble, but instead he supported us in the way that he could,” So said.
Astor expressed his gratitude to the student organizers for being able to express their beliefs while adhering to school policy.
“I’m just continually impressed with our students’ passionate and thoughtful approach to exercising their voice and what they disagree with, but doing it in a way that doesn’t degrade other people or minimize other opinions,” Astor said.