Inside the Alaska State Capitol, a shout echoed in the stairwell: “The kids are coming!”
Outside the building was a louder shout, one that reverberated off the Capitol’s Fourth Street facade: “Enough is enough!”
With a pair of walkout protests Wednesday, hundreds of students from Juneau-Douglas, Yaakoosge Daakahidi and Thunder Mountain high schools joined a national event intended to mark one month since a shooting killed 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Across the country, students participated in a variety of events scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. local time.
At Thunder Mountain, students were scheduled to hold a 17-minute moment of silence. At Juneau-Douglas and Yaakoosge Daakahidi, students used their proximity to the Capitol to make a vocal protest.
At 10 a.m., hundreds of students stood up and walked out of class, many holding signs they made in the hours or days before. After gathering in the JDHS commons, they walked together to the Capitol, where several dozen adults stood in solidarity with them.
Juneau teachers are barred by contract from leaving their posts to participate in a political event, so students organized and ran the entire event, set up audio equipment on the Capitol steps, then organized chants and speeches urging action to improve school safety and reduce gun violence.
“We demand change and action,” said Katie McKenna, one of the speakers talking from the steps.
“When leaders act like children, and children act like leaders, you know change is coming,” she said.
In a light drizzle, lawmakers attracted by the noise came out of the Capitol and stood on the fringes of the student group to watch and listen. Among them were Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, who stood at the back of the crowd.
JDHS student Bianca Eagan, who arranged the parade permit that blocked Fourth Street in front of the Capitol, said students at her school thought they “should take advantage of our location and march to the Capitol” after fellow student Theo Houck suggested organizing an event to mark the one-month anniversary of the Florida shooting.
“I got the permit (on behalf of the group) because I’ve got a car, to be totally honest,” Eagan said.
Students participated for different reasons, they said.
Some told the Empire they’re concerned about their own safety in school. Others said they’re concerned about gun violence in general and want to see gun control.
Participants were encouraged to wear blaze orange and camouflage (and many did, with the colors peeking from beneath rain jackets) to demonstrate their support for hunting rights and draw a distinction between weapons used in hunting and the Armalite-style rifles used in recent mass shootings.
“What do we want?” asked Houck, leading the crowd in a chant.
“We want to live,” was the shouted response.
At the back of the crowd, Dylan Rice wore jean shorts, a checkered shirt and a ballcap celebrating the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
“I’m really here for the students (in Florida),” he said, adding that he wasn’t interested in the gun violence aspect of the march.
Another student, who wasn’t willing to give his name, said he was at the march simply because it was a chance to take a walk.
According to figures provided by the Juneau School District, about 200 students participated in Wednesday’s events at Thunder Mountain. From JDHS and Yaakoosge Daakahidi, the total was “at least 200,” said district chief of staff Kristin Bartlett by email.
The Juneau Police Department offered a lower estimate: About 40-50 students and another 40-50 adults in front of the Capitol.
The number of participants was well below a majority at each school. JDHS has 556 students; TMHS 696 and YDHS 87, according to Bartlett.
Tonja Moser, an English teacher and student council adviser at JDHS, suggested before the walkout that some students would want to go but couldn’t because sport coaches and activity organizers tend to bar students from practices, performances and games if they have unexcused absences.
In Moser’s classroom, Owen Squires said he supported the message behind the walkout but wasn’t participating because he has already missed days of school this year for other activities.
“Plus, if something important happens, I’ve got to make it up,” he said.
Asked about missing class, Eagan had a ready response.
“You’re going to learn a lot more in that hour (of organization and protest) than you would in class,” she said.
As a teacher I feel many things in a normal day; joy, stress, accomplishment, and frustration to name a few. Today, I had overwhelming feelings of pride for students across America and especially those here in Juneau. #AlaskaStudents #NationalWalkoutDay pic.twitter.com/4mwaUwEDsG— Ms Razor (@RazorMath) March 14, 2018
• Contact reporter James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 523-2258.