CAPE ELIZABETH — Hundreds of students in Cape Elizabeth and South Portland walked out of classrooms at 10 a.m. Thursday to call for action on gun violence and to honor the 17 lives lost last month in a Parkland, Florida, school shooting.
The students were among many throughout the state who planned to participate in a nationwide walkout Wednesday, March 14, but postponed due to winter weather and school cancellations.
About 400 South Portland High School students joined the walkout Thursday, breaking into intermittent chants of “We call BS,” reading poems and calling on political leaders to tighten gun laws.
Junior Max Gailey arranged South Portland’s demonstration with fellow students Erica Glidden, Katie Conley, Taylor Davis and Taylor Maxwell. The event was similar to the walkout staged at CEHS, with speeches, poems and a reading of names of the Parkland victims.
“I don’t want more kids to be murdered in school, where they think it’s a safe place, because America doesn’t want to do anything about its precious guns,” South Portland freshman Quinn Cardale said.
In Cape Elizabeth, 200 students massed in a high school parking lot, holding signs, some wearing “We Call BS” T-shirts under their jackets.
The demonstration next to Hannaford Field began with a rendition of Andra Day’s “Rise Up,” performed by junior Kim Knauft. Students prepared speeches, read the names and short biographies of those who lost their lives in Parkland, and circulated and signed letters to the state’s congressional delegation.
A letter from Cape Elizabeth native and Olympic biathlete Clare Egan was read, too.
“No person is too young and no voice is too small,” Egan wrote, showing her support for the students in her hometown.
Among those to speak was Nick Wilson, executive director of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, on how people can take action to end gun violence in schools. The most important thing students can do, he said in prepared remarks, is vote and volunteer for candidates they support.
“I promise that lawmakers are listening to you and Maine Gun Safety Coalition will always support your efforts to prevent gun violence and save lives. We will never tell you what to say or what not to say. We’ve been at this since the Columbine shooting 19 years ago, and we’ve failed you,” Wilson said. “… If we are going to make lasting change and make our schools and society safer, we need to elect a governor and a legislature in November that will close the loopholes in Maine’s gun laws.”
Wilson was asked early on to attend Cape Elizabeth’s walkout by student organizers Christie Gillies, 18, Tory McGrath, 17, and Tony Inhorn, 18.
“Parkland for me was the tipping point … I just thought, ‘We have to do something,'” Gillies said.
The three were in sixth and seventh grade when they heard of the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Still, they said February’s shooting was the first school shooting that really resonated with them.
“I was so young and I couldn’t comprehend (Newtown),” Inhorn said. “(But) ever since then it seems like … people sort of are desensitized to it.”
In bringing the issue of school safety home to Cape Elizabeth, Inhorn said they hope the community is encouraged to speak up and believe they can make a difference.
“I think a lot of kids just think they can’t do anything … or think they’re just one person and don’t have any power,” he added. “Use your voice. Make your opinion heard. Register to vote. That is the way change happens.”
The issue at hand, Gillies said, is not whether their peers agree with regulating the right to carry firearms, but whether they’re informed and active government participants. For that reason, they urged students to register to vote, and handed out registration cards during the walkout.
“Schools shouldn’t be a place where people get shot,” she said. “That shouldn’t be a partisan issue.”
While he feels relatively safe at school, Gailey said he always feels slightly on edge because other schools across the nation have fallen victim to gun violence.
“As students, we need to show that we are powerful enough to take action and enact change in our society before another major tragedy happens in the future,” he said.
Gillies, Inhorn and McGrath said they, too, feel safe in school, noting that when a potential threat was reported on Feb. 26, closing all Cape Elizabeth Schools, the administration took it very seriously, dealing with it promptly and keeping students and parents informed throughout.
Staff and administration, McGrath added, were very helpful and supportive in the planning of Thursday’s walkout and even offered to modify the schedule around the demonstration.
“I didn’t expect so many people to come,” McGrath said after the walkout. “People just started piling out. It was great.”
South Portland High School students leave the building during a walkoutThursday morning, March 15, to remember the lives lost Feb. 14 at a school shooting in Florida and to demand action on gun violence. (Juliette Laaka / The Forecaster)
Cape Elizabeth High School students gather near Hannaford Field Thursday, March 15, to show their support for action on gun violence. (Matt Junker / The Forecaster)
South Portland High School students mass outside the building Thursday morning to remember the lives lost Feb. 14 at a school shooting in Florida and to demand action on gun violence. (Juliette Laaka / The Forecaster)