Morro Bay High School sophomore Alexa Ford knows what it’s like to face the threat of school violence, recalling a lockdown on campus last May when a student was arrested on suspicion of making threats against the school.
She was in band class. An announcement was made over the loudspeaker, and students rapidly texted each other as rumors spread about a possible attack, momentarily causing fear and panic.
The scare ended without violence, but Ford said she knows the deadly massacre that shook up Parkland, Florida, last week could happen anywhere, and she wants to take action to prevent a future attack. She’s one of hundreds of students and activists in San Luis Obsipo County planning to participate in protests in coming weeks.
Throughout the county and nation, students will hold class walkouts on March 14, calling for political and social change around the prevention of gun violence. The local effort is being promoted by Women’s March San Luis Obispo.
High school students are encouraged to walk out of class at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes, one minute for each life taken in the Florida shooting.
A second Women’s March community event, a public rally called a “March for Our Lives,” will take place at 2 p.m. March 24 in San Luis Obispo. According to the group’s Facebook page, more than 450 people have signed up and 1,400 are interested.
“It’s really appalling that things like that can happen,” Ford said of the latest mass shooting. “Even in the closest of communities like our own, it’s possible. The worst thing we can do is not talk about how to prevent gun violence, or pretend it doesn’t exist.”
“This is the first time we’ve had such strong reaction from students in terms of their level of organizing and advocacy, regardless of race, religion, or any other status,” said Oliver Hicks, a San Luis Obispo High School student walkout organizer. “We need to be drawing attention to common-sense laws, whether it’s background checks or banning assault weapons.”
Keanu LyDay, a senior at Nipomo’s Central Coast New Tech High School, said he plans to join other students at the San Luis Obispo march. He said the protests “are totally beyond partisan politics,” and he hopes Republicans and Democrats in Congress will work together to find common ground and take parts of existing bills to push new legislation forward.
“We need to look in-depth at what bills have been presented and what can be effective, maybe combining information politicians can agree on into one bill,” LyDay said. “That might mean more mental health investment, but it also needs to come down to what changes we can make in the gun-buying process.”
The March 24 event will include both a rally and a march “to create a positive and just future by ending gun violence in our schools, and mass shootings in our nation,” according to the Facebook page for the event.
While the location and length of the march have yet to be determined, organizers say the goal of the event is to push Congress to enact stricter laws concerning firearm possession.
“What has happened over the past 19 years since Columbine cannot continue,” organizers wrote in the Facebook event post.
Since 1966, 1,077 people have died in mass shootings in the U.S., according to The Washington Post, and that number is a small fraction of total gun-related deaths in America. In 2018, there have been approximately 60 deaths from incidents classified as mass shootings out of more than 2,000 firearm-related fatalities total, according to Gun Violence Archive, a not-for-profit corporation that catalogs gun-related violence in the U.S.
LyDay said the shooting in Parkland, while just the most recent, could serve as the catalyst to finally end the epidemic of gun violence.
“I think any movement, it takes a while for them to get off the ground. It takes one defining moment for everyone to get behind the idea,” he said.
More information about the march, and the walkout, is available at www.womensmarchslo.com.