“I want to read books, not eulogies,” read one student's sign.
Similar sentiments, on signs and in chants, were in full view and voice in Washington Square Park Friday as several hundred mostly high school students rallied for gun control on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine, Colorado, school shooting.
The air was chilly but the atmosphere boiled with fervor as students' impassioned calls change echoed for blocks. Students from over 40 city schools came to the rally. Savannah Phillips-Falk, a senior from Packer Collegiate Institute, organized the Brooklyn school's walkout on March 14, a month after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that killed 17 students and staff. She also helped organize Friday's walk-out. “This issue directly affects us,” Phillips-Falk said of gun control. “Adults are dismissive of us, but we will not back down.”
Under the square's iconic archway, student activists, local community leaders and City Council members addressed the crowd. Congress Member Jerrold Nadler and Council Member Keith Powers both urged students to vote and called for gun control reforms. “Young people are rising up and making a change!” Nadler projected into the megaphone.
“Vote them out” was the mantra of the day as students called for the removal of politicians who stand against gun control.
“Voting is the only way change will happen,” Phillips-Falk said. “The next election I think we'll see a huge surge of student voters.”
Students crowded around the stage, forming an impenetrable lattice as people tried to pack into unavailable space.
A student walked across the park in a shirt with an encircled gun on it. Another angry student pursued him, seemingly telling him off.
Some students were issued warnings from their respective schools if they chose to walk-out. “Teachers said we might be suspended,” said LaGuardia High School sophomore Kadijah Belcher. “I'd rather be suspended than shot.” She carried a sign reading: “Gun Control isn't about Guns it's about Control.” Belcher said over half the student body from LaGuardia attended the rally, one of over 2,000 across the country taking place Friday.
The rally marked the third national demonstration since the Parkland school shooting in February, which itself followed a bleak legacy of gun violence since Columbine. According to the Washington Post, 208,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since Columbine, where 12 students and a teacher were killed by two other students. They include the 32 students and five faculty killed at Virginia Tech in 2007, the five students killed at Northern Illinois University in 2008 and the 20 students and 6 adults killed at Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.