Sophomore Keelie Partridge stood on a rock so the other Oak Harbor High School students could see her. The sky was overcast and there was a cold breeze, yet many of the students didn’t wear jackets.
“Today we congregate undivided,” she said into the megaphone. “We come together not as Republicans and Democrats, but as one force, unified under the belief that we are no longer safe in our learning environment, and we demand change.”
Approximately 200 Oak Harbor High School students participated in the national school walkout at 10 a.m. Wednesday in front of the high school to protest gun violence. They joined thousands of young people across the nation one month after the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
The walkout lasted for 17 minutes in recognition of the 17 victims.
Student-led walkouts also occurred at Skagit Valley College Whidbey Island Campus, North Whidbey Middle School, Oak Harbor Intermediate, Coupeville High School and South Whidbey High School.
Partridge spoke about being tired of the cycle of “life and death and prayers and promises and nothingness.” A clear message stood out from all of the speakers— members of their generation are not going to stand for a lack of action anymore.
“We rally as one massive, unstoppable force,” said Partridge. “We congregate undivided because we are well and truly past patiently waiting.”
Students from the liberty club encouraged the congregation to call their representatives and handed out voter registration forms. Around 20 adults stood on the sidewalk and cheered them on like parents at a soccer game, but instead of saying “go!” they shouted “vote!”
“You’re the future, make it count!” one woman cheered as the students headed back inside.
However, the community response has not all been so positive. Comments on the Whidbey News-Times Facebook post about the walkout ranged from telling the kids to go back to class to calling them “snowflakes.” Many said the focus should be on mental health, bullying or improved school security instead of guns.
“I’m proud to say that my son did not participate in this unproductive and politicized display,” Sarah Felger commented.
Some expressed disappointment with the school district, though the walkout was not a school-sponsored event.
Dwight Lundstrom, Oak Harbor High school principal, sent an email on March 9 informing families that students planned to participate in the demonstration. He said that students would be excused for the 17 minutes, with parent permission, and it would be treated as an unexcused absence without permission.
“We want to ensure all students feel safe and respected no matter what they choose to do,” Lundstrom wrote. “We are proud of our students who are making their views known on all sides of this issue and speaking up about changes they want in our society. Learning to channel their passions through peaceful advocacy about issues that impact them can be a powerful growth experience for our students.”
Many who were opposed to the demonstration said the students don’t understand the issue fully.
“Absolutely ridiculous” Justin Jones wrote. “Just an excuse to get out of school. How many would show up on a Saturday to protest? Don’t even understand what they are protesting. The problem is bullying, the problem is parenting, the problem is liberal agenda and media. Fix what’s going on inside homes first.”
Partridge told the assembled students they would be met with doubt and opposition in their fight, but encouraged them to not be dissuaded from continuing on.
“I have news for every adult who doesn’t want my generation to have a voice,” she said. “We are intelligent. We are informed. And we are furious.”
Watch Partridge’s full speech here.