Bloomington students rally during National School Walkout

Molly Wagschal, Editor

“This is a repeat after me song: Hey hey NRA, how many kids did you kill today?” This was the chant that BHSN senior Caleb Poer initiated at Bloomington’s school walkout and rally, which united students from local elementary, middle and high schools in protest against gun violence and for stricter gun control legislation.

Poer and other members of Bloomington Students Against Assault Weapons (BSAAW) organized the rally as a part of the National School Walkout on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine high school shooting.  

At 10 a.m. on Friday morning, many students from South left their second period classes, either to gather in the front of the school and form a walking group or to head to pre-organized carpools. Senior Mo Lynch handed out small print-outs from the American Civil Liberties Union website, informing students of their rights during a protest.

The Monroe County Courthouse was the students’ destination; there, South students met up with others from Bloomington High School North, University Elementary School and Harmony School, to name a few. Several BSAAW members led the growing crowd in chants such as “enough is enough” and “vote them out,” referring to the large number of Indiana politicians who have accepted money from the NRA.

Many students held up handmade signs, and some sported fake price tags reading “$2.31,” which signifies the total amount of NRA contributions to Indiana politicians divided by the number of students in Indiana. This was meant to satirize the “price” of each student’s life.

South seniors Toudora Galuska and Maddie Clemmer created and displayed posters that were inspired by popular culture, inserting President Trump and the NRA into viral memes.

South freshman Rachel Waite said that she participated in the walkout because she thinks the frequency of school shootings in America is unacceptable.

“Fear has no place in schools,” she said, adding that “our lives shouldn’t be ruled by guns.”

Arianna Buehler, a junior at North, equated students’ fear of gun violence in schools to the fears of many Americans after the infamous 2012 shooting in a Colorado movie theater. Her sign read, “Some adults don’t go to the movies anymore because they don’t feel safe. Kids don’t have an option to not go to school.”

After all the students had arrived at the Courthouse, some lay down on the pavement to represent the many children who have died as a result of gun violence in schools. Poer read the names of the victims who lost their lives at Columbine 18 years earlier, and the crowd participated in a 90-second moment of silence. Then, the protesters marched to Third St. Park, where speakers were invited to share their voices at the outdoor stage.

“We stand in solidarity. We walk with a purpose,” Tamara Brown, a North senior and member of BSAAW, stated.

Mayor John Hamilton also attended the event and congratulated all the students who had assembled at the Courthouse.

“I’m inspired, energized and impressed,” Hamilton said in an interview, referring to the rally as “democracy in action.”

When asked what advice he would give to students, he said, “Vote. Agitate. Educate. That’s how change happens.” Hamilton also spoke at the rally, telling students that “Bloomington is very proud of you.”

Although many of the protesters were high school students, there was a notable presence of younger students from Bloomington elementary and middle schools. One, Judith Thompson, a middle schooler from Harmony School, had walked two miles using crutches because he had a broken leg.

“I want to make a change,” Thompson explained.

North seniors Kurina Fort and Maddie Potter voiced concern over not just their safety but that of their peers and family members.

“Many of us have younger siblings, and we don’t want them to have to fear for their lives at school,” Potter said.

At the park, BSAAW leaders played Beyoncé music and invited students and other members of the community to the stage to share poems, speeches and musical acts. Many speakers stressed the power of voting and urged protesters not to let the momentum of their activism die. County Commissioner Amanda Barge told students to “stop being polite” in their fight for sensible gun control reform.

Poer, the final speaker of the event, ended his speech by raising his fist, which prompted the audience to do the same. He condemned pro-NRA politicians and encouraged every student to keep fighting for gun control.

“You will stand with us, or you will fall with them,” Poer said.