Georgia student walkout leaders organizing next steps

First they walked out of school. Then they marched in Atlanta and Washington.

Now metro Atlanta students who want tighter gun controls are scheduling town hall meetings, forming an alliance whose first aim is gun-violence prevention and planning other ways to continue their fight.

“I think it is so imperative that we do not stop, because there are so many people trying to scare us and so many people trying to silence our voices because we are just kids,” said Hannah Andress, a Lassiter High School senior. “People don’t understand that the government officials, they work for the people and that’s why we can’t stop advocating for what’s right.”

She is helping organize a student-led discussion panel at 6:30 p.m. April 18 at the Lassiter concert hall to discuss ways to curb gun violence. Organizers plan to ask two students from each grade to sit on the panel and invite elected officials to attend.

While some students across the country are calling for another school walkout on April 20 — the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting — the Lassiter students decided to find a way other than another walkout to involve more students.

So far, the April 20 school walkout, touted heavily on social media after the Feb. 14 Parkland, Fla., school shooting, appears to have generated less traction locally than last month’s walkout. On March 14, thousands of metro Atlanta students left class for 17 minutes to protest gun violence.

Hannah said about 35 people walked out of Lassiter that day. Cobb County School District took a stricter stance than some metro districts, and many Cobb participants received one day of in-school suspension as punishment.

After the March for Our Lives rallies, the Parkland students, who have become high-profile activists since the massacre, urged groups to hold meetings with lawmakers.

Several metro Atlanta students said they’re trying to plan events, including in the 4th District of U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson and in the 11th District of U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk.

In Gainesville, students planned a Saturday town hall in U.S. Rep. Doug Collins’ 9th district. They invited the Republican lawmaker, who receives high marks from the National Rifle Association, but were told he is unavailable, said University of Georgia junior Marisa Pyle.

  • PHOTOS: Students march on Washington D.C.

Representatives from Collins’ office could not be reached for comment.

“In terms of next steps, we are pretty much taking our cues from the national movement and the Parkland kids, and I think one thing that is very important is that we don’t lose our momentum,” Pyle said. “People are really fired up.”

Students who helped organize the Atlanta march have formed the Georgia Student Alliance for Social Justice. Several dozen young people, with the help of liaisons at more than 100 schools, continue to brainstorm ways to stay involved in gun issues, said Janel Green, executive director for the Georgia Alliance for Social Justice, which has supported the student group.

“I came home from that march so exhausted, expecting that we were going to have some days off and kind of relish the moment, get some rest,” she said.

But the messages from students about what to do next kept pouring in.

“They are ready to go,” Green said.

Nationally, teachers unions and other groups are promoting the National Day of Action Against Gun Violence in Schools on April 20. The grass-roots events will include letter-writing campaigns and wearing orange, the color associated with anti-gun violence activism.

“We are just so proud of all of the work that students have done around this issue and the leadership that they’ve taken,” said Carol Burris, executive director of the New York-based Network for Public Education, one of the sponsor agencies. “We want to ensure that they know that we are not only behind them, but we are not going to let that march end with the march.”

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