Mar. 13, 2018 12:40 pm

These Philly students are protesting gun violence with the National School Walkout

Philadelphia Student Union and students from Friends Select School are among the many local groups to organize activist events one month after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida.

Philadelphia Student Union members discussing the Parkland shooting.

(Photo via

On Wednesday morning, young people across the country will leave their classrooms to participate in the National School Walkout.

Created by the Women’s March organization’s youth arm, EMPOWER, the event invites students and their allies to walk out of school at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes to protest the lack of legislative action from Congress on gun violence.

Last month, 17 students and school staff members were killed during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The event sparked the #NeverAgain movement, primarily led by Stoneman Douglas students.

The call to action has reached many students around the United States who are both familiar and new to this kind of activism, including several dozen groups of Philadelphia students and student-led organizations.

Locally, student-led organization Philadelphia Student Union (PSU) and Juntos, a community-led Latinx advocacy organization, coordinated the Student Vision for School Safety March, which will start at 11:30 a.m after the walkout. The march route is from the School District of Philadelphia office at Spring Garden and Broad streets to the north side of City Hall.

“There are groups that have already been asking for what the students in Florida are asking for,” said Julien Terrell, executive director of PSU. “For us, it’s a shame that yet another school shooting has had to happen for elected officials and other decision makers to take this seriously.”

PSU has put forth a list of demands for school safety that prioritizes student vision, with a focus on reforms surrounding safety and policing that doesn’t target communities of color. Terrell said the organization has been pushing for these kind of policy changes, including restorative justice and increased mental health services, for the past 22 years.

Representatives from likeminded activist groups such as Black Lives Matter Philly and Vietlead and elected officials such as Councilwoman Helen Gym and State Sen. Vincent Hughes will be speaking at City Hall after the march.

Superintendent Dr. William Hite has only agreed to excuse students from the 17-minute walkout, not the march.

“We’re really seeing the march as something that is complementary to the walkouts,” said Terrell.

Anna Holemans, 17, and Lydia Shaw, 18, are among the 30 to 40 student organizers at Friends Select School who have been coordinating their high school’s walkout.

The Friends Select walkout will start at 9:50 a.m., students and their allies will walk from the Friends Center, the Quaker meeting house near 15th and Race streets to the north side of City Hall.

The Friends Select walkout is focused on bipartisan gun control legislation. A press release put forth by students asks senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey to support legislation raising the legal age to buy all guns and increasing the strength of background checks for gun purchases.

"The national protest is really important, but we need something solid that comes out of this."
Anna Holemans

“The national protest is really important, but we need something solid that comes out of this, and gun reform legislation is super important and creates lasting change to our community,” said Holemans, a senior at Friends Select who also organized Alice’s March for Equality last year to raise awareness of the still-stagnant Equal Rights Amendment.

Shaw, a senior at Friends Select and president of Friends Select Student Government, got permission from the dean of students to give an announcement to the student body the week after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting about the walkouts that were already happening around the country.

After Shaw’s announcement, she spoke with Holemans about taking part in the national walkout.

“We’re doing this because it’s about lives,” Holemans said. “Lives are at stake here. So I think it’s something that everyone at our school is really passionate about.”

Terrell said 15 PSU members decided that they wanted the organization to coordinate a march and provide support to other students and groups organizing walkouts at their schools.

“We have a motto [that] young people make the decisions around what we’re going to be doing on our work,” Terrell said.

Students in Friends Select Student Government, Friends Select service club Helping Hands and others have been planning, reaching out to press and organizations in the Friends Center, and handling social media for the walkout. PSU members and staff including Terrell have been working on similar outreach efforts with students, press and other organizations.

“For us, we see the march, and especially the walkouts on the 14th, as an opportunity for us to strengthen what our community looks like in Philadelphia,” Terrell said.


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