Approximately 100 members of the Foothill student body patiently awaited for the clock to strike 10:00 a.m. on Friday, April 20. The time signalled the start of a nationwide walkout against gun violence.
The students who silently left class were met at the front of the school with red slips that informed them of the “possible consequences of truancy.” The list included an inability to make up missed work; disciplinary action like detention and revocation of off-ground privileges; and no participation in extracurricular activities on Friday and Saturday.
“Prom could be included in those extracurricular activities,” Principal Joe Bova said.
Bova said “if a student walks off and they’re truant, typically, we would give them a week of lunchtime detention. We’re not planning on doing that, but that’s something that could happen.”
He and Campus Supervisor Michael Bowen walked alongside kids during their march to ensure their safety. Police cars and motorcycles also escorted the students along the road.
Bova said that as the Ventura Unified School District (Ventura Unified) had reviewed their plans and protocols for the day, the Superintendent David Creswell decided to have administrative staff walk out “with the students just to try to do the best we can to keep them safe.”
The event was organized by Hanna Yale ‘20, who led another walkout on March 14, and her co-coordinator Audrey Feist ‘20. Yale had the Foothill marchers wait for Buena’s marchers to catch up with them at the corner of Ventura College. From there, the hour-and-a-half march commenced to City Hall.
To demonstrate their support and their passion, some students wore orange as this is the national color for the movement. Other students carried political posters with messages such as “arms are for hugging” and “if Congress won’t act, students will.”
More vocal students led sporadic, yet impactful chants throughout the morning. Some among these were “hey, ho, the NRA has got to go,” and “What do we want? change! When do we want it? Now!”
Yale took charge to organize the event because “no one else was doing it.”
“A lot of people say that walking out of school is really drastic,” Yale said, “but that’s the point.”
According to Yale, the reason that the event took place at City Hall was because last month, Yale and Feist attended a meeting in which new gun legislation was introduced to Ventura.
Vanessa Luna ‘19 said that she participated because “she shouldn’t have to be scared to go to school.”
Luna was a bit apprehensive about whether or not she wanted to walk out: “I was pressured by some individuals that I shouldn’t be doing this, but in the end, my use of the First Amendment—my right to peacefully protest—should outweigh it all.”
Once the group gathered at City Hall, students and city council members alike spoke to the audience. This included Yale, Feist, Sylvan Campbell ‘21, City Councilmember Cheryl Heitmann, Shoup, City Councilmember Erik Nasarenko, Lily Hargett ‘19, and State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson.
Andrew Shoup ‘18 was one of the student speakers in front of City Hall. Shoup said he attended to “not only protest gun violence in schools, but to protest everyday gun violence which I think has gone unnoticed.” More specifically, he was referring to gun violence in gangs and police shootings.
“While we need to talk about gun control,” Shoup said, “while everything that happened at Parkland was horrible, this isn’t a one-solution approach. We can’t just say we’re going to ban assault rifles and everything is fine because then people of color are still getting killed. Brown and black people are still getting killed by the police.”
Shoup’s handmade poster for the event was a list of all unarmed black and brown people who have been fatally shot by the police since 2015.
In Shoup’s speech to the students, he asked, “why when black teens protest gun violence are they met with riot shields, but when white schools protest, the police help escort them to City Hall?”
Senator Jackson travelled down from Sacramento for the day to speak to the young students.
“I’m here to support the intensity, the commitment, the passion and the anger of young people who are tired of this kind of gun violence going around in our country without Congress taking steps to do anything to curb it,” Jackson said.
Jackson remembers feeling “numb” when she first heard of the Columbine shooting 20 years ago. Friday’s march, for her, was a day of “reflection,” as she remembers time and time again that “we have to take the tools of [the killers’] desperation away from them.”
“The message that I try to bring to the young people that I speak to is you can rally , you can march, you can have all sorts of demonstrations, but if you don’t vote, the people who need to hear that voice are not gonna listen,” she said.
She wants students to “let the word go out to the people who are running for office that you’re going to vote, and you want to know where they stand on the issues of gun control, and that if they don’t stand with you, you’re gonna vote against them.”