Elissa Teles, 18, is a senior at Weston High School in Connecticut. Here, she describes how she organized her school's walkout in commemoration of the 17 killed in the Parkland, Fl., shooting and in protest of gun violence.
Shortly after the Parkland, Fl., shooting on February 14, I saw a post on Instagram that, though addressing the tragic deaths, asserted that the massacre was unavoidable. That's when I decided to organize my school’s walkout. My gut wrenched, and I started to cry. Inspired by Emma Gonzalez's speech and murmurs on social media of a national school walkout, I created a Facebook page and added 30 of my friends who I knew would participate. I urged them to add others, and, before I knew it, more than 400 people had joined. I then joined forces with two of my strong, politically outspoken classmates, James and Gabby, to get the show on the road.
I held two after-school meetings for any other kids in the high school who were interested in helping me organize the event. I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of kids from all four grades who wanted to make it happen. In an unlucky series of events, though, it snowed the day before the planned walkout, so for a moment we thought an outdoor demonstration was hopeless. We didn’t want to give up just like that—we mobilized a group of 12 students to shovel our outdoor track so we’d have a place to walk the next day. The hours of shoveling were worth it.
VIDEO: Right Now: National School Walkout—Parkland, Fl., Students
I live in Weston, CT, which, is 20 minutes away from Newtown [where the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting took place]. I was in seventh grade at the time, but now I’m a senior. I had 26 students bring in teddy bears to represent the 26 victims of Newtown. We wanted to incorporate physical symbolism for both the Parkland victims and the 26 Sandy Hook victims.
I rounded up a group of 17 students (one for each Parkland victim) to stand on the bleachers with me while the rest of the participating students stood on the track. As I read each name aloud, the 17 individuals cracked a luminescent glow stick in their honor, to elucidate the lost souls. Then, 26 students brought teddy bears to represent the victims of Sandy Hook. They held them up proudly while I delivered the following speech along with my co-organizers:
On December 14, 2012, occurred a tragedy this community knows all too well. Of these 26 victims, 20 were children aged 6-7. Today, these children and the six women who died trying to protect them will not be able to see how little has changed after their deaths. But they will walk with us in the arms of 26 high school students, who, like everyone here, will have a say in who gets elected into our offices.
There are life-or-death flaws in our system. We walk out of school today to honor the students who never got to walk out. One month ago today, there was a tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. One person with one semi-automatic assault rifle that he never should have been able to get, played a role greater than his own and took it upon himself to remove souls from this earth. The bullet of an AR-15 obliterates the human body; unlike the bullet of a handgun, whose enter and exit wounds are linear and minimal, a shot from a disgustingly powerful weapon is jagged and tears through flesh with no mercy. Nobody ever even stood a chance.
I just turned 18 years old—old enough to buy a long gun but not old enough to be taken seriously. Young enough to be shot at school. I’m looking at all of you and reflecting on the value of the human life. Who won’t get to experience their first prom? Who won’t get to chant on the bus rides on the way to their sports team’s state game? Who won’t get to sing their son or daughter to sleep as their eyes flutter to a close? Imagine if your chance to live—blast music in your car with your hands out the sun roof, go to college and have the chance to be someone, reflect on why you’re here in the first place—imagine if all of that was cut short by a bullet.
I call B.S.
Walking out shows unity when we need it the most. Students from all over the country are walking out, just like us, right now, not only in solidarity with the victims of the Parkland school shooting but also to protest our government’s inability to produce any meaningful, concrete reform. How can one explain to a child that in the event of a school shooting, they have to play dead? How can we call ourselves the greatest country in the world if our government turns a blind eye to the hundreds of atrocities committed in schools?
Today, no matter what party you belong to, you have the opportunity to come together and say “enough is enough.” These 17 minutes allow us, the students, to tell our leaders that we do not feel safe in the one place that should not, under any circumstance, be threatened by weapons of any kind. No organization should take precedence over our right to live. These are the first 17 minutes of a revolution, one that will not stop until never again can a student die at the hands of a deadly weapon, one that will not cease until these United States of America have seen their last school shooting.
Over 600 students marched, as a small chorus of sophomores sang “Imagine” by John Lennon. Standing above them in the bleachers, I began to cry. This time, though, it was tears of hope.