By Annemily Hoganson, Anya Kaplan-Hartnett, Victoria Kindratenko and Emma Lowenstein.
Left to right: Annemily Hoganson is a junior at Uni High and an organizer of the CU-March For Our Lives. Anya Kaplan-Hartnett is a sophomore at Uni. Victoria Kindratenko is a junior at Uni; she volunteered at the CU-March For Our Lives. Emma Lowenstein is a junior at Uni. All four walked out on March 14, and were organizers of the April 20 school walkout/teach-in.
According to the Brady Campaign, on an average day in the US, seven children are killed by gun violence and 40 more are injured. Each year, around 110 kids are unintentionally killed by guns. According to a 2017 study from the American Academy of Pediatrics, 4.2% of kids under the age of 17 have witnessed a shooting in the past year. That’s 4.2% too many. That’s seven deaths, 40 injuries, 110 unintentional deaths too many.
We are a group of local high school students from Central, Centennial, Urbana, Uni, Saint Thomas More (STM), and Danville High Schools, who have united to fight gun violence. After the recent shooting at Parkland High School in Florida, we came together with a goal of ending gun violence in all forms, including police brutality and suicide.
While most conversations about gun violence focus on homicides, three out of the seven children who die from gun violence on an average day die from suicide. In addition, although white victims of gun violence often get more media attention, gun violence disproportionately affects African American, Hispanic, and American Indian children.
But what can a group of teenagers from Champaign-Urbana do to tackle this complex issue? Although most of us are too young to vote, we can still take action against gun violence. We’re calling on our representatives to pass better gun legislation. We’re organizing young voters to elect representatives who support better gun legislation. We’re working to support organizations in our community that have been working for years to reduce gun violence, and we’re educating ourselves and fellow students about gun violence in our community.
On March 14, students from local schools walked out of class to call for better gun legislation. For some students who had never participated in a protest before, the walkout showed them the power of their own voices.
After the March 14 walkout, we worked closely with the Champaign-Urbana chapter of Moms Demand Action to plan a local march as part of the nationwide March For Our Lives movement. Despite heavy sleet and freezing temperatures, almost 1,000 people gathered to protest with us in Douglass Park on March 24th. Community organizations worked tables at the march, educating attendees about gun legislature and ways to contact their representatives. Some march attendees even registered to vote.
On April 20, we organized a walkout/teach-in, joining high school students across the nation to demand change.
Students marched out of school to attend a teach-in, where they learned about gun violence in Champaign-Urbana and how they can effectively advocate for an end to gun violence. Speakers from across the community discussed police brutality, domestic violence, suicide, effective voting, and voter suppression. Students learned from gun violence survivors about their experiences. They also learned how to write and call their representatives. When kids marched back to school at the end of the day, they had the information necessary to continue the fight against gun violence.
However, our political action does not come without consequences. Students at Central, Centennial, and STM who walked out on April 20th faced social criticism and were banned from attending their prom. Uni High students were marked truant and weren’t allowed to make up any schoolwork or participate in sporting events and rehearsals. Nevertheless, over a hundred students attended the teach-in.
We still aren’t finished fighting for change. We’re helping Champaign-Urbana Moms Demand Action with another march on June 2nd to continue educating and empowering our community. We’re accomplishing our goals through non-violent protest actions that encourage students to make change.
Seven deaths is too many. Your silence is too quiet. Help us make change.
Follow the student coalition on Instagram at walkout_teachin and on twitter @CUMarchFOL.
To find out more about CU Moms Demand Action and the march on June 2nd, go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/cumomsdemandaction/.
Note: Statistics from the Brady Campaign consider people ages 0-19 as kids, while statistics from the American Academy of Pediatrics report consider people ages 0-17 as kids.
For Brady Campaign statistics, see http://www.bradycampaign.org/key-gun-violence-statistics
For the American Academy of Pediatrics report, see