BRATTLEBORO—“It’s time to stop rehearsing our deaths and start screaming.”
Those words, written by a Virginia pre-K teacher, Launa Hall, in 2014 and read by Brattleboro Union High School senior Cassandra Dunn, summed up the feelings of the more than 250 students — about one-third of the student body, according to BUHS Principal Steve Perrin — who walked out of classes on March 14 for a rally in front of the school.
It was part of a nationwide event, as more than a million students across the country walked out of classes for 17 minutes in honor of the 14 students and three teachers who were killed on Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., by a former student with a semiautomatic rifle.
For these young people, a generation of students who have grown up with safety drills to prepare for a school shooting, grown up going to schools with locked doors, video cameras, and law enforcement officers in the hallway, the March 14 rally was a way to send a simple but powerful message about the need to end gun violence in the U.S.
In front of the students stood about 100 community members of all ages, there to support the young people and their message.
Dunn and two fellow seniors, Lucia Morey and Molly Durling, did not mince words in their remarks at the rally.
“We are all here today because we are demanding change,” Morey said. “We do not feel safe inside our schools. This is why we are walking out today. We want to be clear about how serious we are about the change we demand. Children are dying."
“No child should fear that someone is going to take their lives or their friends’ lives in a classroom,” Durling said.
”We cannot keep sending thoughts and prayers as children are dying,” Dunn said. “We need action.”
And the students had an action plan ready, starting with a call to state and federal lawmakers to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines.
A petition has been circulating inside the school, calling on Gov. Phil Scott and the Vermont Legislature to “pass common sense firearms laws to prevent the violence.”
Those laws would include expanded background checks for firearms purchasers and giving law enforcement agencies greater authority to seize weapons from people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.
The students also want Americans to focus on why about 40,000 people a year die in homicides, suicides, or accidents that involved the misuse of a firearm, far more than any other industrialized nation in the world.
“Guns are what are causing these deaths, not the mentally ill, not a lack of security in our schools, not because our teachers aren’t armed,” Dunn said. “People are dying because it is ridiculously easy to get a gun in America. You have to go through 13 steps in Japan to get a gun, but only two in America.
“We have the largest gun-to-person ratio in the world, with 101 guns per 100 people. We have had 62 mass shootings this year alone. That means there have been 62 separate instances where four or more people have been wounded or killed by a gun this year.
“You cannot say the problem is not guns. The problem is guns and we must fix it.”
Active and aware
Morey said the students taking part in this protest, and the thousands of other protests happening that day, were “not under the direction of others and are not manipulated by any agenda — we literally don’t want to die at school. We are active and aware and are educating ourselves.”
And, as Morey reminded everyone, “We will be turning 18 and voting in these next few years. We will be charging forward, marching forward, and speaking out and singing out and crying out as we demand manifestation of the reality we know to be possible.”
“There will be a voter registration table at all the lunches,” Durling said. “I encourage you to register because we need to plan our future, not let some corporate politicians take it from us.”
There was a line of students after the rally doing just that.
There was also a sign-up sheet for the next stage of the protest, a march in Montpelier on March 24 that is part of the “March for Our Lives” event organized by survivors of the Parkland shooting and scheduled to take place in Washington, D.C., that day.
Morey said GunSenseVT is renting a bus for students to go to Montpelier on March 24, leaving BUHS around 9 a.m., and getting back by around 4:30 p.m. She asked students to contact her, Dunn, or Durling if they want to go.
School officials said they were pleased that the protest was peaceful and orderly.