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  • McNeil High School, 5720 McNeil Drive, Austin, TX 78729

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#NeverAgain

Student protesters walkout to end gun violence

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Students’ chanted as they walked to gather at the Raymond E. Hartfield Performing Arts Center parking lot, becoming part of history on April 20, the 19th Anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre.

The school’s first walkout was organized by four students; juniors Libby Rayos, Ryan Semegran (both are presidents of the Frank Feminism club), Larissa Marks and senior Madi Ruiz (both are members of Students for Social Justice) who decided to conduct a walkout shortly after the Parkland High School shooting on Feb. 14.

“I saw a post on Instagram and it was a couple days after the Parkland shooting and it essentially said 4/20 there’s going to be a walkout on the anniversary of the Columbine shooting and I was like … it would be really cool if we could organize this at my school,” Marks said.

As part of the #NationalSchoolWalkout movement, the walkout was one of thousands registered across the country.

Held from 10 a.m. to 1:20 p.m., more than 300 students walked out during 1st period, Flex and 2nd period.

“It’s just really amazing to see all the people come out and to all be one in this [cause],” senior Ana Gilbert said.

Throughout the majority of the walkout, participants surrounded a podium where 15 student and adult speakers, including Democratic candidate Rick Kennedy and María Milner from the League of Women Voters, made speeches and read slam poetry. Trigger warnings were given before speeches that contained sensitive material.

“I want to inspire other people in my generation but also impact the next generation,” senior and speaker Ada Forbes said.

The speakers addressed topics ranging from the recent school shootings and adjacent concerns about the inclusivity of the student-led movement #NeverAgain, the Pulse Nightclub shooting, police brutality, and personal experience with gun violence.

“After the Parkland shooting, seeing those kids stand up has taught the rest of us to also stand up for ourselves and politics,” senior and speaker Varun Saravanabavan said. “We can no longer be silent anymore.”

Attempts to protest the walkout and its participants began with an Instagram account supporting a “school walkin” and current gun legislation days before the event. Anti-walkout protesters made an appearance twice during the walkout.

“My favorite part of the walkout was when there were counter protesters obviously trying to instigate fights,” Marks said. “Instead of giving in, everybody just banded together to peacefully block it out of the way so people would focus on what was really important which was the student speeches.”

Students held up handmade signs saying phrases such as, “Protect people, not guns”, “Books not Bullets,” and “Please, take it” a reversal of the counter protesters “Come and take it” sign showing an assault rifle.

In addition to guest speakers, the event included voter registration booths, donated snacks and water and a $400 donation from St. Andrews Presbyterian Church. Students also received information about how to contact Texas legislators to campaign for gun regulation. Some students continued their protest at the Capitol.

“We’re here because we genuinely believe we’re going to be the generation to end gun violence and to reform gun laws,” Ruiz said.

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