‘Louder than a bullhorn:’ Staples students walk out, demand action on gun control
WESTPORT — Elana Atlas remembers registering the events of Sandy Hook when they happened, but at 8, she couldn’t grasp their horrifying significance.
“I knew what happened was terrible, but I didn’t realize it was an epidemic,” Atlas, now a 14-year-old Staples freshman said from Veterans Green, where she and a group of student activists, town and school officials and residents gathered Friday afternoon so that students could explain the purpose of the walkouts that took place at schools across the country earlier that day.
Unlike the March 14 walkout in honor of the 17 victims of the Parkland, Fla., shooting, Staples students did not work with administrators in planning the event. Rather than hold the event inside the gymnasium and submit student speeches for administrative approval -- as was required in March -- protesters convened in the Staples courtyard from 10 a.m. until school dismissed. Observers said the crowd exceeded 500 students at its peak.
“I think it’s great there were a lot of people,” said Staples junior Lydia Donovan, who spoke during the walkout, along with Atlas, sophomore Glendy Cirolia, and junior Addie Hogue.
Hogue said she used the platform to call out politicians not responding to their constituents’ wishes for stricter gun control.
“Gun violence is an issue that affects everybody. Politicians don’t seem to be paying attention to that,” Hogue said.
During the walkout and at the after-school rally, which was organized by seniors Brooke and Perri Kessler, students called attention to the power they hold over lawmakers as the next generation of voters. Students demonstrators wore bright orange t-shirts, on the back of which was printed their graduation year with the words “voting class of…” Westport Registrars of Voters Marla Cowden and Kevin White had a booth on the green to sign up unregistered voters.
The students invited First Selectman Jim Marpe, Staples alumnus and State Senate candidate for Connecticut’s 26th District Will Haskell and State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg. A team of police officers silently watched from the perimeter of the green as Atlas led chants chanted of “Tell me what Democracy looks like,” and “What do we want? Gun Control. When do we want it? Now.”
Staples Principal James D’Amico, who was present at the rally with Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer, said he was “extraordinarily proud” of his students and that the vast majority protested respectfully, though he felt the school had to play a different role in this particular demonstration because of its overtly political context.
“In March, all students wanted some element of a memorial. This time was more about gun control, so I think the school plays a different role,” said D’Amico.
D’Amico said that the vast majority of students acted respectfully, through a small number of detentions were handed out and at one point bullhorns were taken away from students.
But taking away their amplification did not give the protestors a moment’s pause.
“I’m louder than a bullhorn,” Atlas said.
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