Students to the Streets

Parker Students Participate in City-Wide Walkout for Gun Control

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  • Freshman Nathalie San Fratello holds Black Lives Matter sign while protesting at the Chicago Student Walkout on April 20.

    Photo credit: Sammy Kagan

  • Freshman Denise Roman exits Parker on her way to the rally.

  • Students gather on Parker’s front steps, waiting to take the train downtown.

  • Sophomore Estelle Heltzer signs out with Assistant Principal Ruth Jurgensen on her way to the downtown rally.

  • Senior Maya Sanghvi exits Parker alongside dozens of other students.

  • Freshmen Rebecca Gross and Grace Conrad helped to organize the city-wide walkout and lead Parker’s delegation to the event.

  • Freshman Adrian Bustamante waits to be signed out by Assistant Principal Ruth Jurgensen.

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Eager eyes in classrooms across the city watched the hour hand inch closer and closer to 10am. On Friday, April 20, more than 3000 students from over 20 schools in the Chicagoland area, including around 35 Parker students, set down their pencils, picked up their posters, and marched out of their schools to demand stricter gun reform on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine high school shooting.

Chicago’s schools walked out on April 20 as part of the national movement started by survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where seventeen people were murdered and fifteen were injured when a gunman opened fire on Valentine’s Day 2018.

Despite the historic relevance of the day, this walkout served a different purpose for Chicago’s youth. “In this city, violence is not a new conversation,” MC Pedro Ortega said at about 11:30 AM on the steps of Grant Park, before introducing rally’s the first speaker. “It is not a new headliner. Violence for thousands of people of color is just one shot away. This walkout is about Chicago. This moment is about Chicago. We are the students of Chicago, and we will fight against racism, a corrupt police force, and our government.”

By Avani Kalra

The Chicago Student Walkout (CSW) planning committee consisted of eleven students who organized, planned, and distributed information about the walkout. This committee included freshmen Grace Conrad and Rebecca Gross, who recalled deciding on a Chicago focus two weeks before the walkout, at the committee’s first meeting in a study room of the Harold Washington library.

“Nine out of eleven people on the planning committee were driven to do this because they have personal experience with gun violence,” Conrad said. “Their voices need to be heard, and they can’t be left out when it comes to this movement because it’s what they see every day.”

Along with a focus on violence in Chicago, specifically in the South and West sides, the walkout narrowed on police brutality. Students marched with posters condemning the Chicago Police Department (CPD) for senseless acts of violence, and speaker Nicole Uribe, from Ogden International School of Chicago, told a story about her cousin’s experience with police violence that brought her and others in the crowd to tears.

Freshman Emme Silverman recalls Uribe’s speech. “I was bawling,” Silverman said. “Her speech was absolutely beautiful.”

Due to experiences like Uribe’s regarding police brutality, the CSW made the decision not to involve the police. “One thing we’re really proud of is our lack of contact with the CPD,” Gross said. “We felt it was important because the CPD does have a reasonable role in the lives lost in Chicago, even though some schools, especially private schools like Latin, really wanted the CPD. The three reps from Latin actually dropped out of the CSW planning committee because they didn’t want to participate without the CPD.”

For Latin, the CPD was an important feature to keep the event safe. “Latin’s administration was not comfortable with their school participating without the protection of the CPD,” Conrad explained. “Even though the representatives had to pull out of the committee, a few Latin students marched even without the approval of the administration, which was amazing.”

The former CSW representatives from Latin declined to comment.

CSW planners chose not to obtain permits, in order to intentionally create civil unrest. “We were really into causing a disruption,” Conrad said. “If we’re getting a permit to assemble, we’re not doing that. At Grant Park we’re just assembling and then moving. At Federal Plaza, we don’t have a stage– we’re just standing on wooden platforms and benches. If we get shut down, we have megaphones, so we can keep moving.”

Although the rally was never shut down, the meeting point in Grant Park was moved after organizers standing on the stage were told to move due to a lack of permit. Those assembled moved a block south, towards the Field Museum. Organizers and speakers stood on stairs, the audience on the grass below them cheering and chanting in the grass below them.

The rally was intended to take place at Federal Plaza, but began in Grant Park due to logistical difficulties. Halfway through the speaking list, it came to the attention of the organizers that some 200 students were assembled at Federal Plaza, and those attending the rally happily picked up their signs and followed the organizers to the Plaza, chanting and screaming the mile there.
Some Parker students felt uneasy about the dangers a lack of contact with the CPD and a march with no permits could pose for their safety, and thus made the decision not to walk out. Others chose to remain in class so as not to miss school. Unlike the last walkout, a called or emailed excused absence from parents was required for students to participate, and they were marked absent from their classes.

“Personally, I didn’t walk out because I was really concerned about a lack of permits,” sophomore Allan Bennett said. “A large group of people marching through the downtown area without a permit was not anything I expected could end too well, so I decided it would be best not to attend.”

Conrad and Gross were cognizant that the involvement at Parker was significantly less than from other schools, but they were not fazed by it. “This is not an issue that a lot of Parker students grapple with, and this day is about the people who do,” Gross said. “We know a lot of Parker students aren’t walking out, but we don’t feel like it’s our responsibility to encourage them to. This is an extremely important issue, and if you believe in the cause, you’ll walk out.”  

The ramifications of walking out at Parker were the same as missing a day of school due to illness or travel. An excused absence was required from parents, and students were expected to make up work they missed on their own time. Certain schools around the Chicagoland area, including Jones College Prep, were not as accommodating.

“Right now, a day before the walk-out, some schools are still threatening ridiculous consequences for students walking out at 10 tomorrow,” Gross said on April 19. “Jones College Prep is still threatening a three day suspension.” Jones’ consequences did entail an in-school-suspension, but it did not show on a student’s high school transcript.

At 10 AM, students met in the lobby ready to march out the front doors as a collective walkout, but they were stopped by Assistant Principal Ruth Jurgensen, clipboard in hand. Students were checked out the front doors one by one. They re-assembled in Circle Drive before heading to Grant Park.

Protesters voiced opposition to the police officers present throughout the rally and march. “The police are not your friends,” Ortega said as he began the rally. “If they approach you, don’t respond and walk away. They are not here to protect us. They are here because they have to be.”

Following these words, Ortega read the phone number of the Chicago ACLU aloud, encouraging everyone to note it down in case of an arrest, and read the crowd their Miranda Rights.

“We know many of the people here are people of color, and we know how the police feel about people of color,” Ortega said. “We know this could be extremely dangerous for many of you standing here today, so we want to thank you for standing up and doing what’s right. Especially because there are so many people that couldn’t be here today because of the CPD.”

Several police officers present at the walkout declined to comment.

Ortega made this announcement shortly after Emily Jones, a senior and poet at Von Steuben, read her slam poem. “If I am ever arrested for a crime, I hope they book me as caucasian female,” Jones screamed over the cheering of the crowd. “Nothing more. I hope my hair is straightened that day. That they mistake my wide nose as a birth defect. They’ll see marble skin, and I know Miranda will be in the building…”

Hearing all of these speakers and attending the event, March for Our Lives organizers and Parker sophomore Natalie Daskal was struck by all of the work that was done for the walkout. “I think it’s so impressive that this group of students managed to pull this together in a week or so and the fact that they attracted three-thousand people is amazing,” Daskal said. “The Chicago-based focus is so important because this is an issue that affects the people of this city every day.”
Organizers of Chicago’s MFOL questions the CSW’s mission to create civil unrest. “However, the organizers of the March for Our Lives are really working on trying to get legitimate policy passed, and we’re looking towards hosting a policy conference in the coming weeks,” Daskal said. “Some of the rhetoric present at the walkout, if that becomes our face, could be harmful for the movement. There was a lot of talk about repealing the 2nd Amendment, and anger towards the police, and that is something the opposition is quick to latch onto and use to dismiss the movement. It could have been more successful when considering the overall movement if the CSW had refined their wording to be more specific.”

Conrad suggested that the two events were different. “There’s definitely a difference between us and March for Our Lives. We weren’t directly correlated to any national movements. We had to start with nothing and work our way up. It was really hard to just pick a message to represent what everyone stood for and get it out, so instead it became sort of an assemblance of ideas. And that’s OK, because it was more about the bringing together of the student voice around Chicago. We’re definitely not anti-2nd Amendment. Our focus is just more geared towards targeting the core problems that cause violence, like the education system, especially where it is dramatically underfunded.”

The work of the CSW planning committee did not end on April 20. “We’re currently working to change Illinois state law regarding gun control and also working to fund parts of the city that need it,” Conrad said. “In terms of taxes, we want to increase IL income tax for corporations 7% to 7.05%, and increase individual taxes 4.95% to 5%, which would result in extra revenue allocated to education. We’re also working on a gun registry program, as well as making sure all gun vendors have to report to the state. We have a list of demands, and we won’t be stopping until they are met.”