Woodburn, North Marion students join thousands in walkout
Students at Woodburn and North Marion high schools were among the many youths across the country who walked out of school Wednesday in response to elected officials' failure to address gun violence.
The coordinated walkout was held at about 2,500 schools nationally, including many Portland, Salem and Eugene schools.
In Woodburn, students not only walked out of school, but after observing 17 minutes of silence (one minute for every person killed exactly one month earlier in a school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida), marched to City Hall and then the district office. At each location, students addressed the crowd, as did political leaders.
House District 22 Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon (D-Woodburn/Gervais) walked with the students and addressed them at both the high school and City Hall.
"I am excited for our community, because I can see future community leaders in you," she told the more than 100 students gathered outside the high school. "You're asking for support and I want you to know I hear you. It's our job as adults to fight for you and protect you. ... It took your voices and the voices of students across the nation to call attention to this very important matter. You have a very important role in this community, in the state and in the nation. Keep organizing, keep working and keep making a difference because young people do make a difference."
The primary organizer of the Woodburn walkout is Juan Arriaga, who said the local event was in solidarity with the initiative to call for comprehensive gun violence prevention legislation.
"We are marching because we believe that the government needs to place restrictions on guns," Arriaga said. "We are marching in solidarity with the victims of the Florida shooting. We are spreading the message that we need to act now BEFORE a Sandy Hook or a Columbine happens at Woodburn High School or any Woodburn school."
Alonso Leon said Arriaga reached out to her office to see if she would be willing to attend.
"He did everything to make sure this was a safe event, he consulted with the school and the police," she said. "I'm very impressed. I was talking to Mayor (Kathy) Figley, telling her, here are our future council members, our future political leaders. We have them in our own community."
Figley also addressed the students, and even Woodburn Police Chief Jim Ferraris expressed how well-organized and peaceful the protest was.
At North Marion, students walked through the halls and out the commons doors, where they observed 17 minutes of silence before heading back to class.
Women's March Youth Empower called on students, teachers, school administrators, parents and allies to take part in the 17-minute walkout in honor of the 17 lives taken. The 10 a.m. walkout across every time zone on March 14 was meant to protest "Congress' inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers" in response to the gun violence plaguing schools and neighborhoods.
In demanding Congress pass legislation to protect students, they point out that many of those high school students who walked out will vote this November, and many others will cast their ballots in 2020.
Gervais High School's Associated Student Body decided to honor the victims but not doing so in the form of a walkout, since the national event has become politicized, according to Principal Ken Stott. Instead, ASB is encouraging students to wear maroon (the color of Douglas High School) or black for mourning, and maroon ribbons will be passed out. There was a moment of silence around 10 a.m. for the victims, Stott said.
In Woodburn, Arriaga said the absences will be excused with parental permission, but also that the staff and school administration has been positive about the movement.
"Some teachers who have the free time are planning on standing with us during the 17 minutes," he pointed out before Wednesday's event. "They support us along with the principals. They see this movement as a positive thing, that our generation is gathering together to voice our worries over gun violence. We are not being silenced."