Gun Walkout One Year Later: What We Didn’t Learn
ABOVE: A picture of the school walkout, taken by Maddie Gunnell
Last year, we all made history.
The Packer community decided to stand up to end gun violence. We walked out of school, held a rally, and let the world know that we meant business about the state of gun control, or lack thereof, in our country. It was not just us: schools from all around Brooklyn joined us at Borough Hall, allowing our voices to grow louder and carry through the streets. But make no mistake: we lead our fellow Brooklyn schools to action. The whole event was orchestrated by just a few Packer students and was seen by onlookers all over the world.
During the walkout, I was one of The Prism staff members tasked with capturing the event. I ran around the park and stage, taking videos of the event and interviewing attendees for the duration of the rally. I watched as the Packer student leaders put out fire after fire, got interviewed by major publications, and stood their ground against antiquated policies and stubborn politicians. I also saw, from the outside, how impressive we all were. We were unified and started our mission with one voice; that day, I was proud to call myself a Packer student.
It has been one year since that day, and while we have made modest progress in advancing the goals of that rally, we have regressed in a much more consequential way in the year since.
I in no way think that we are not having, or should not have, conversations about gun violence, as well as a wide range of social justice issues such as race, gender, and socioeconomic status. We have continued to ensure that these conversations are held within our community. However, the ways these conversations have been presented to the community is less impactful and helpful than what we were able to accomplish during the walkout.
Although I have never been to one of these conversations, my opinion on the matter should not be discounted as a result. In fact, if the leaders of these conversations are truly trying to expand the group that goes to them, my opinion should be among the most important they hear. No matter how great these conversations might be from the inside, if not everyone comes, there cannot be a truly rich exchange of values and ideas that bring about meaningful change in the community.
The way these conversations have been advertised has created a stigma (whether purposely or not) against those who do not go to the conversations. Every announcement for them has, both implicitly and not-so-implicitly, stated that if one does not go to these forums they are not allowed to have an opinion about the topic and, more harmfully, are not considered a good member of our community. I feel, whether or not they mean to do this or not, looked down upon by those who are outspoken and “woke” about these issues. I can almost guarantee that some who go to these forums go not because they are actually passionate about the topic being talked about, but go to avoid the stigma and being looked down upon by those who do go.
One example of this is the stigmatizing of social media advocacy. Especially in the aftermath of the recent scandal that originated on social media, many called out those who used social media platforms to make their opinions known as being lazy or not truly caring about the issues that they posted about; according to these people, the only way to correctly advocate for issues is participating in these conversations. While I do agree that social media is not the best way to champion many issues, vilifying and stigmatizing those who are making more of an effort than most can only hurt these causes.
What the gun violence protest leaders, both within and outside of Packer, did right was not use social stigma to coerce us into tough conversations, but rather inspire us through their words to stand up and fight with purpose and heart as one united force. Inspiration does a much better job of calling people to action (whether that action is walking out of school or attending a conversation) than fear and stigma could ever do. Furthermore, having an inspired student body will lead to better conversations once everyone is in them because everyone wants to learn and have a conversation about the topic.
We need to put that inspirational spirit back into our social justice conversations. How do we do this? The first of many steps is explaining why everyone should care about the issues before the actual conversation and respecting the decision of those who don’t go at face value and not stigmatize them.
I in no way expect the same level of inspiration now compared to what we had last year. After all, things like that happen at such a large scale only once a generation. The kids who stood up after their friends died we so eloquent, inspirational and organized, that everything just lined up perfectly. That doesn’t happen very often. However, if we can start doing more to inspire our fellow students to participate in tough conversations, we can start to make even more change in the world.