RHS walkout: Speakers, open mic planned for April 20

Rain or shine, hundreds Ridgefield High School students will spend next Friday outside in protest against gun violence.

“Worst-case scenario, if there is any rain, we’ll probably go up into the stands [at Tiger Hollow],” said sophomore Lane Murdock, who launched the National School Walkout movement in February days after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that claimed the lives of 17 people. “But we’re on turf, so the grass won’t get wet, we’ll just get wet.”

The event will coincide with the 19th anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado on April 20, 1999.

Murdock, who expects as many as four non-student speakers to attend the rally at the high school, said the last two months have been a crash course in learning how to run a demonstration of resistance.

“I think my only nerves at this point is things like are we going to have enough tables,” Murdock told The Press earlier this week.

While RHS Principal Stacey Gross said she still has to meet with Murdock to come up with a final itinerary for the day’s events, Murdock said students will follow a basic plan published on the National School Walkout website — a guideline she hopes other schools will follow when hosting their own April 20 walkouts.

Walking out

The plan calls for students to get up and walk out of class at 10 a.m. and gather on campus. The event will open with Murdock holding a moment of silence lasting 13 seconds to memorialize each of the 13 Columbine victims.

While the national walkout agenda suggests students march off campus, the Board of Education decided on March 27 that the event should be held entirely on school grounds out of concern for student safety.

Throughout the event, students will be encouraged to register to vote. Murdock hopes to have volunteers in the crowd who will help the students register and to keep track of upcoming elections through registering students with TurboVote — a website that reminders users vote.

Open mic

Unlike the March 14 protest at RHS, which memorialized the 17 lives lost at Parkland by having students walk a lap on school grounds, Murdock’s walkout has a political edge to it.

Among the specific goals listed on the group’s website is that legislators turn down the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which would allow residents of other states who hold a concealed carry permit to carry a concealed gun in other states — even if those states have stricter limits on who may hold a permit.

They’re also asking legislators to return any money they have received as campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association.

Murdock plans to lead the students in chants making those demands.

After the speakers make their remarks, the agenda calls for students to hold an open mic.

“For the rest of the day, students won’t return to class, but will make calls to their senators’ offices and flood social media with calls for reform, using the hashtag #NationalSchoolWalkout,” the agenda says.

Murdock said the open mic is for all students to share their thoughts.

“The interesting thing is that we’ve had people ask us, ‘I’m a Second Amendment supporter, I’m going to be allowed to speak?’” Murdock said. “That’s what an open mic is for.”

Security costs

The Ridgefield Police Department has agreed to cover the cost of providing security for the walkout, Gross confirmed to The Press. The Board of Education previously discussed having the student organizers cover the cost of increased security for the day through fund-raising efforts.

Police Capt. Jeff Kreitz declined to comment on the specific security measures that will be in place at the high school during the walkout, saying that the department does not want to compromise the safety of the event.

Sister event

Murdock won’t be the only Ridgefielder leading a walkout from school. Brandon Wong, a former Ridgefield High student who graduated last year, said he is hoping to hold a similar event at Ohio State University, where he is a first-year student.

An economics and political science major, Wong said he was inspired by the activism of his old classmates in Ridgefield, and spoke with Paul Kim, one of the student organizers of the walkout at Ridgefield High. Wong has a younger sister who, like Kim, is a senior at the high school.

“My sister’s grade really inspired me,” Wong said.

Wong noted that many of the policy makers are people who might not understand the students’ perspective.

“We are the people who’ve experienced gun violence the most, so I think this is the issue that we have the most say in,” he said.

‘Hear what they have to say’

Asked about the walkout on Tuesday, First Selectman Rudy Marconi said he supported it.

“It’s certainly important that the younger generation have a voice, and that we hear what they have to say,” he said.

Murdock had a message for students who weren’t planning to walk out on April 20.

“Try coming, because you can always leave.”