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South Florida students to call for gun control during national school walkout on Wednesday

Phillip Valys, Sun Sentinel on

Published in News & Features

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- At least 2,500 schools across the country are bracing for a massive walkout of students, teachers and their allies on Wednesday, March 14, exactly one month after the deadly Marjory Stoneman Douglas High shooting in Parkland.

The coordinated walkouts will take place at 10 a.m. Eastern time, including in South Florida, where at least 18 high schools and colleges from Wellington to Miami plan to honor the 17 teenagers and teachers killed in the Parkland massacre. Students also plan to brandish protest signs and press lawmakers for stricter gun-control laws.

Although demonstrations have sprung up at schools often since the Feb. 14 shooting, the idea behind this walkout originated with Empower, the youth arm of the annual Women's March. The "#Enough Walkout," as organizers call it, started as a Facebook event but quickly grew in popularity.

"Students and staff have the right to teach and learn in an environment free from the worry of being gunned down in their classrooms or on their way home from school," the group states on its website. "Parents have the right to send their kids to school in the mornings and see them home alive at the end of the day."

The Women's March website calls for a 17-minute walkout, one minute for each of the 17 people killed in the shooting, and for protesters to wear orange. For students' safety, the website asks adults not affiliated with the walkout schools to avoid protesting with students.

Ellie Branson, a 16-year-old junior at South Broward High School in Hollywood, is planning a joint protest at the K.C. Wright Administration Building in Fort Lauderdale with students representing nine Broward schools: South Broward, MacArthur and Hollywood Hills in Hollywood; Blanche Ely and Pompano Beach High in Pompano Beach; Atlantic Technical College and Coconut Creek High in Coconut Creek; Piper in Sunrise; and Fort Lauderdale High.

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Branson is expecting more than 100 South Broward students, plus hundreds more when they assemble in Fort Lauderdale.

"We're collaborating with other schools because there's more strength in numbers and a better chance for our voices to be heard," says Branson, who expects the walkout to last most of Wednesday. "It's going to be more of a rally than a walkout. We'll have signs and we'll be chanting."

This isn't Branson's first school protest since the Stoneman Douglas shooting. She organized a Feb. 20 passive walkout at South Broward High in solidarity with the victims, joining similar South Florida demonstrations. The message then is the same now, Branson says: to demand better gun control, including universal background checks before gun sales, better safety for students and a ban on assault weapons.

"We should listen to kids, because we're going to be the people voting in the next election, and running in the next election in 2020," Branson says. "By legislators not listening, what they're doing is teaching us that our voices don't matter. But they do."


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