An open letter about the walkout from one of its organizers

Please, understand why this matters to us

March 15, 2018

March 14, 2018

To the parents, to the community, to those that said we were wrong to do this,

If you have read any other Tonka News stories, you may know me as the editor-in-chief of this website and newsmagazine. If you have been inside Winnetonka, you probably just know me as Katie. Today and in the weeks leading up to today, I was also an organizer of our school’s walkout.

I was born in February of 2001, nearly two years after Columbine. When I was in the fourth grade, I came home from school to see my television blasting endless news coverage of Sandy Hook. Since then, it feels like the shootings have never stopped, like every bullet shot has just ricocheted until the next one was fired. A part of me gave up on changing anything a long time ago; then Parkland happened, and it was like every cell in my body and the bodies of those around me woke up and decided that enough was enough.

You see, we are the generation that has grown up with these shootings, seeing them so often they’re almost normal. We are a generation that grew up learning about 9/11 instead of experiencing it first hand. This violence is not shocking to us, it is every day, and this desensitization is not only terrifying but not okay in any way.

On a local TV news station’s livestream of the march posted on social media, there were a lot of comments made by people who did not witness the walkout. The following are a sampling of some of those comments. This is addressed to all the people who said we were wrong:

“These kids are only out there to get out of class. Why don’t they go inside and do something productive.”

First, we would not have been in a traditional class anyway. We left the building during the last 12 minutes of our 81-minute long second period and the rest of the demonstration was during a school-wide free period where students are allowed to attend whatever classroom they would like for extra help.

Second, you ask us to do something productive and so I would like to ask how it is you believe 50 minutes of lecture or project work about mitochondria or Machiavelli would ever be more empowering than this march. I would ask you how us calling representatives and showing our congressmen that gun violence is a problem to us is not productive. I would ask you how our marching is in any way less productive than you commenting on a Facebook video of us doing so.

Third, we were not only “there to get out of class,” and please read that with as much vehemence as is necessary to understand its truth: we were not there to get out of class. A week after Parkland, a boy dropped his backpack outside my classroom and three people inside jumped in their seats and whispered “shooting,” like it was a question. We have grown up walking in crowds wondering if that meant it would get us killed. The nihilism I have personally witnessed in this generation is as shocking as it is saddening, and this is us ending it. We were not there to get out of class, we were there to mourn the lives of hundreds of students and to make sure we never have to mourn again.

“What a lazy way to try and change things.”

We advocated voter registration and students walked out of the march calling representatives. We physically walked for 17 minutes. We chanted, we cheered and we screamed for change. We did not sit back and hope for it, we demanded it. We are still demanding it. What else do you suggest we do? Stay in our classes and watch the news? No, we are not reading the headlines anymore, we are writing them, we are changing them.

“How disrespectful for them to do this to their teachers who are only trying to help such an ungrateful generation.”

Do you know how many teachers told me to stop this? None. Every teacher I have seen today has thanked me or said they were happy. They were not allowed to participate by order of the National Education Association and the district, but in so many ways they did. One of my teachers saw me in the hallway before the walkout and excitedly showed me her running shirt because it was orange. Many had been slated to speak before they were told they couldn’t walk out.

Let me tell you, I cannot speak for every teacher, but everyone I have spoken to was proud of what we have done.

And why would we do this if we were not grateful to our teachers? This is because of them. This is because we want to feel safe in their classrooms so that we can learn from them. My father is a teacher – is my teacher – and I love my other teachers as much as I love him, which is saying something. We want this education that they can offer us, and we are fighting for it.

“This is just a bunch of idiot students. They’re probably the worst in the school and in this nation.”

I am the editor-in-chief of our nationally ranked newspaper and news website, the vice president of Key Club, a state level cellist, a competitive member of our poetry slam team, a cross country, swim and track athlete, a member of National Honor Society and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I have a 4.0 and take exclusively Advanced Placement, college credit and honors core classes. I’ve had four seasonal jobs in three years. That’s just a tiny fraction of my resume and I pale in comparison to my organization counterparts Joe Bell, Danielle Dodd (who discovered she had been accepted to the top lighting design college program in the nation minutes before the walkout) and Harper Ross.

And we are just the organizers. The hundreds of other students are as distinguished as us.

“Just another example of kids doing what they please while parents follow them around with their thumbs in their mouth.”

If you are a parent, and this is your way of using your voice, then I suggest you please try putting your thumb in your mouth for a moment so you can think before you speak. Maybe then you would listen to us and actually comprehend what we are saying. You’re right, we are doing what we please, as we are allowed to do so. And what we please is ending gun violence and the loss of life in this nation. If you don’t want that, then please try to educate me on why you don’t want it instead of just saying my opinion is wrong. Let’s have dialogue, let’s have a conversation. Let’s listen to one another and figure out the best path to change.

Also, it is time for students to speak. We have grown up in a different era than you, and we have already been silent for too long. It is time for us to learn to use our voices to carry a movement like this. That’s how we change the world.

And to the administration and staff who were so supportive,

Thank you. Thank you so, so much. Students at other schools were blocked from leaving or were disciplined, yet I felt nothing but love and support from our school. To the teachers who came up to me and showed me their orange, to the teachers who said “thank you for doing this,” to the teachers who let students leave, to the staff that made chairs and a sound system possible, to the police that kept us safe, and to the administration that supported us as much as they could: thank you. You have no idea how much this means to us.

This morning, I woke up and went to school where I met Joe Bell, Danielle Dodd and seven other students to set up 165 chairs, a stage and mic system in the 20-degree weather on our frosty football field. Those nearly 170 chairs represent the lives lost in school shootings just during my lifetime. The racks of chairs were heavy to push up and down the hill to our track, but not near as heavy as the weight of the lost lives they represented.

This was not just a march, and it was not just a walkout. This is a movement. This is a chance for every student to make their voice heard and their intentions clear. This is our way of doing our best to make sure that there is never another Parkland or Sandy Hook or Columbine. There should not be acceptance of death on a scale this massive, and this is our way of saying that we are not ready to accept it, but we are ready to change it.

We students deserve the right to be safe in our classrooms and in our homes. This is our way of voicing our belief in that right. If you were at the walkout, you would have seen the hundreds of students linking arms with one another. You would have seen the orange color of school safety peppered among the crowd. You would have heard Joe Bell defend the second amendment but also ask for consideration of its connotations. You would have listened to Danielle Dodd ask us to consider mental health and the impact of reaching out to one another. You would have seen 500 kids text RESIST to 50409 so they could contact their representatives as Harper Ross asked each person to carry this movement into their homes and then onto the Congressional floor. You would have heard me say, “I love you,” more than a dozen times. You would have seen the tears of kids whose voices finally had a platform.

“Only love. No hate. We just want to graduate,”, “Our lives matter,”, “We want change.” These are the chants spoken on this day by this generation, and I have never been prouder to be a part of it.

Love, respect and peace,

Katie Bullock

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