March for Our Lives: RHS students join protests in D.C.
With belief, youth and numbers — and an evolving agenda, the student protesters of the March for Our Lives movement mean to make an impact that goes beyond a few weeks of headlines and TV appearances.
“We want to be sure kids are being active members in their local community,” said Ridgefield High School sophomore Lane Murdock on Monday, after returning from the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., Saturday, March 24.
The student protesters’ agenda is starting to focus on gun control measures, trying to separate lawmakers from the money and influence of the National Rifle Association (NRA) — and on creating a more durable organization.
“As far as demands,” Murdock said, “we’re looking at things like universal background checks, no ‘concealed carry’ reciprocity, and generally no NRA money.”
Murdock — whose Feb. 18 posting on Change.org helped trigger a nationwide movement for school walkouts in reaction to the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. — flew down to Washington with help from the Change.org organization.
In Washington, she attended organizational activities and met with a number of the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, site of the Florida shooting that took 17 lives on Valentine’s Day.
“It was amazing and it impacted me a lot. That was obviously a really emotional day,” Murdock said. “I think for me it was interesting because I’d seen and heard their stories online, but to actually meet all these kids — some of them, they’re not really in the public eye, they’re just kids at that school — it really affected me.”
The team of RHS students involved in organizing with Murdock, and who went to Washington, included Paul Kim, Grant Yaun and Max Cumming. Those three students took the train down and participated in Saturday’s march, which drew crowds in the hundreds of thousands — estimates ranged from 200,000 to 800,000.
“Max and Paul and Grant were marching with the Indivisible Group, where I was in the MSD [Marjory Stoneman Douglas] students,” Murdock said
At meetings Murdock attended in Washington, students talked about ways to keep their movement — sparked by tragedy, and spreading like a wildfire — alive for the long term.
“What we’ve been seeing is when you plan one of these walkouts, you get a team together,” she said.
“These teams in schools are already in place. Why don’t we make them official groups? There’s a Young Democrats Club, a Young Republicans Club, but there are no student activist clubs in high schools around the U.S.,” Murdock said.
“What we want to do is get the groups around the U.S. that are loosely formed about the walkouts into official chapters.”
Broadening the activities from just walkouts is in keeping with a perspective Murdock expressed in an email exchange in late February, discussing historical figures she admires — they range from political movement leaders like India’s Mahatma Gandhi and suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst to artists like Oscar Wilde and Andy Warhol.
“I know the youth of today want change, I know the youth of today are individualistic. I want to give them the platform to do and be both. So far this movement is proof that if I do what I believe, unapologetically, I can inspire others, while cultivating individuality,” she said.
“Politics are a tool, not a focus. Anyone should want change. But figuring how to bring it about, that’s politics.”
Next on the agenda is the April 20 National School Walkout — the event sparked by Murdock’s Change.org posting in reaction to the Florida shooting on Feb. 14.
It’s gotten big.
“Two thousand schools,” Murdock said Monday. “We have a walkout in every single state.”
There are also walkouts planned in U.S. territories, such as Guam, she added.
The walkout on April 20 — the 19th anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado — is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. and is expected to last until the end of school. The basic activities various schools are planning include guest speakers, open mic for students to express views, letter writing, and voter registration for those who are old enough to vote.
“It’s a full day,” Murdock said.
Not everyone’s on board, of course. And others are supportive but only casually involved.
Murdock said students at Ridgefield High School show a wide range of reactions to her involvement in gun control issues and her increasing profile in the national political youth movement.
“It’s obviously mixed reviews. People who are supportive are just over the moon and very happy,” she said.
“But for students who aren’t really involved in the movement, who aren’t really excited about what we’re doing, we have a full month until April 20th,” she said. “A lot of them are like, ‘That’s great. When it gets closer, let us know.’”
And it’s not just high school kids.
“Parents are supportive,” Murdock said. “Teachers have been great as well.”
Saturday’s March for Our Lives in Washington was echoed in sister marches in communities, large and small, all around the nation — including Hartford and New York, where Ridgefielders participated.
Going to Washington and participating in the March for Our Lives was an uplifting experience for Murdock, and strengthened her resolve to stay active and be a part of her generation’s efforts to make the world a better place.
“What the march gave me was not just optimism, but hope. I think it made everyone feel less alone. It gave us a sense of unity and a sense of brother-and-sisterhood,” Murdock said.
“It’s a wonderful time to be alive. I think it’s sad it had to take another school shooting to get here, but we’re moving forward,” she said.
“We’re making history, and nothing can really stop us.”