Savannah Bowerfind says she’s grown up in “the generation of mass shootings.”
Now an 18-year-old senior at Lincoln High School in Portland, she remembers being 6, going through the motions of school safety drills. She remembers being 13 and in her algebra class, planning what she’d do if a shooter barged into her school.
Another mass shooting had shocked America then. She paused. She couldn’t remember which one it was.
“The fact that like, I thought that was an important plan to have at the age of 13 shows something kind of deeply wrong with our country right now,” Bowerfind said.
At 18 she carries a desk over her shoulder and across Lincoln High’s football field. It was one of several desks placed across the field’s 50-yard line. There were 17 of them — in honor of the 17 victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Students at Lincoln High joined thousands others across the nation in commemorating the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shooting. At Lincoln, students spread out on the field and, for 17 minutes, sat in silence. Most adults stood on the sidelines. This was not their protest.
Anne Marie Field, 18, placed flowers on the 17 desks. She adjusted a note left on the desk for Peter Wang, who died while saving classmates in the Parkland shooting.
“Your death should have been preventable,” the note read.
Field said there have been a lot of discussions at school in the days after the shooting.
“We’ve locked down since then,” Field said. “We’re having more drills, which is really painful to say but it’s something that’s really real. And we have to face it.”
Zoe Bonnichsen, a 17-year-old senior, said she’s afraid. But more than that, she’s upset. The walkout wasn’t about making a political statement, she said. It was about honoring the lives lost and reminding people that they didn’t forget what happened one month ago.
“We’re planning to stand with the entire nation again to do another protest to make sure that the entire nation knows: High school students in our country won’t stand for this. We won’t stand for inaction. We won’t stand for gun violence. And we won’t stand to lose any more students,” Bonnichsen said.
A smaller group of about 25 students wanted more than 17 minutes. They held highlighter-colored signs and marched off campus. They’ll likely get marked for an unexcused absence, they said. Maybe they’ll even face suspension.
Gabe Rosenfield, a freshman, didn’t care. He said 17 minutes of silence wasn’t enough, that it didn’t make a difference.
Savannah Bowerfind, meanwhile, said she knows there are efforts to discredit protests like theirs. She’s heard the criticism: They’re too young, they’re just kids, just students. But she knows, firsthand, that people underestimate their power.
“The amount of energy and the amount of both intellectual and activist willingness and firepower these people are bringing to the table exceeds anything I’ve seen from a national organization of adults,” she said. “And I’m really excited about the future.”
In Southwest Washington, students at Clark County schools also left class early to join the national walkout.
At the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, about 200 students lined up in front of the main building, many holding signs protesting gun violence. Several times, the group of students broke out in chants, saying “enough is enough” and “not one more.”
At Camas High School, nearly 500 students left school at 10 a.m. and gathered around the school’s flagpole. A group of students who organized the walkout read the names and a short bio of each of the Parkland victims.
“Seeing the actions of those students in Parkland, actions of youth across America has been inspiring,” said Monica Chang, 16, an organizer of the event and a junior at Camas High School. “We realized that we could be a part of that. Even though we can’t vote, we can still have a political voice through this walkout. Actively doing things has been empowering for all of us.”
Camas High junior Catherine Garcia said Wednesday’s walkout was just the beginning. She and the other organizers plan to set up voter registration tables throughout the year. They’re also gathering signatures for a letter to Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler demanding stricter gun control.
“So many kids around the country are saying it’s enough, we’re done and we need to see change happen,” Garcia said. “This is for us, the next generation, because no one else is going to do it for us.”
OPB’s Molly Solomon contributed reporting from Southwest Washington.