Northland students join national walkout
Students throughout Duluth and the surrounding area rallied against gun violence Friday by joining in the National School Walkout.
They tagged their social media posts with things like "#enough" and used the event to mark the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colo. — a grizzly herald of things to come that is now older than almost all of today's high school students.
"Not much has happened since," said Will Smith, a Harbor City International School sophomore. "Legislators haven't done anything to stop this from happening."
The walkouts were undertaken in a variety of ways with efforts voluntary, school-approved and largely student-organized, said Joan Peterson, co-president to a Duluth chapter of the gun-reform group Protect Minnesota.
"We're here to support the kids," said Peterson, outside City Hall. "This is all student-led."
Roughly 250 students, nearly a third of the Denfeld High School population, marched along Grand Avenue as part of a 1.5-mile loop to Laura MacArthur Elementary School and back. Sophomore Victor Williams said he walked for potential victims of gun violence as much as he did for those who have been injured or killed.
"I have a little brother and I wouldn't want him to be brutally murdered at a young age by somebody that needs help," Williams said. "That's why I joined this march."
Some students in the Northland used the walkout to call and write legislators. Duluth East and University of Minnesota Duluth students were scheduled to register voters in advance of the November midterm election. Many students wore the color of the cause — orange.
Harbor City's Smith wore an orange pullover as he helped to lead an hour-long rally on the sun-soaked steps outside City Hall in downtown Duluth.
"You're teenagers, pull out your phones," Smith said, directing students to call legislators and ask Sen. Amy Klobuchar, in particular, to vote against an ongoing concealed carry reciprocity measure which would allow permits to cross states.
Harbor City students also wrote thank-you cards to Dick's Sporting Goods which stopped selling assault-style rifles and made headlines again this week by saying it will destroy its remaining stock to keep the rifles from the market. The letters were going to be delivered to the Duluth store at the Miller Hill Mall.
Columbine's brutality is often viewed as the start of a grim succession of mass shootings which have made figurative chalk outlines of their locations — Red Lake, Minn., Blacksburg, Va., Aurora, Colo., Newton, Mass. The February mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. was remembered outside Cloquet High School.
"Our government is too caught up hating one another to realize we need the support of everyone to get (things) done; it's time for us to give them a reality check," said senior Christian Loeb, adding later: "Today we stand shoulder to shoulder with students across the nation for those who can't anymore. We stand for change."
Cloquet juniors Emma Wells and Abby Johnson held a sign which read, "Never Again."
Wells said the issue of gun violence hit home when Cloquet's middle and high schools endured a code yellow earlier this year — a modern-day indicator of a terroristic threat or potentially dangerous police tip.
"At first I didn't think it was real," Wells said. "But then the thoughts come in your head, like, 'Where am I supposed to hide?' and, 'Where is my little brother?' "
The survivors of Stoneman Douglas have persisted in challenging the status quo on guns and mass shooting events. In their attempt to make Parkland a turning point in the national debate, the most active survivors are appearing on national television news and gaining massive followings on social media. They've inspired a tech-savvy and socially live generation of students.
"National campaigns would be easy to ignore without what we're doing in our own backyards, where elected officials can see it for themselves," Smith said, noting city officials working in the building over his shoulder.
As much as senior Signe Stromgren appreciated the 50 Harbor City students by her side, she was happy to report who wasn't at the walkout.
"There's no conflicting protest," Stromgren said, looking around to make her point. "I'm so proud of fellow students for disagreeing with us respectfully."
She said she counters disagreements by explaining she's not trying to take guns away, only to make the world a safer place. She said she wouldn't dream of imposing her views on others and that generally she finds her peers can discuss differences without walking away angry from one another.
"When you live in a diverse world," she said, "you're going to encounter diverse opinions."
Reporters Jamey Malcomb and Jana Peterson contributed to this report.