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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: ‘We’re really tired of sitting around waiting for the adults’

March 13, 2018 Updated Tue., March 13, 2018 at 7:29 p.m.

Lewis & Clark High School student Ellary Lockwood, center and North Central High School’s Sophia Bain talk about the effect school shootings have had on them during an interview Monday. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Lewis & Clark High School student Ellary Lockwood, center and North Central High School’s Sophia Bain talk about the effect school shootings have had on them during an interview Monday. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

They were sixth-graders when it began to sink in.

Ellary Lockwood remembers hearing about the Sandy Hook massacre on the radio in her mom’s car. A bunch of children shot in their own classrooms.

Sophia Bain recalls her anxiety at going to movies after learning about the Aurora shooting. A bunch of moviegoers, shot in a theater.

Like everyone else in their generation, they learned early and grew up in the shadow of the routine mass shooting.

But it’s never felt routine to them.

“I think I’ve always been aware that this shouldn’t be happening,” said Bain, a 17-year-old junior at North Central High School. “This isn’t normal.”

Bain and Lockwood, a 17-year-old Lewis and Clark High junior, are part of the surge of activist young people raising their voices in response to last month’s shooting in Parkland, Florida.

They plan to participate in Wednesday’s 17-minute national walkout to honor the victims of Parkland and demand gun-safety reforms. They also are helping organize the citywide March for Our Lives, a pro-gun-control rally that will start at noon in Riverfront Park on March 24. Among the events planned that day is the delivery of mock checks signed “Thoughts and Prayers” – a phrase symbolizing congressional inaction among advocates for better gun laws – to the offices of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

“We need a cultural shift in America away from gun violence, because it’s a cultural problem,” Lockwood said. “No other country has this problem.”

Both Bain and Lockwood said they were interested in politics before now, but that the extraordinary passion and visibility of the Parkland students – who have stepped to the very center of gun politics – prompted them to do more.

“I’ve always been tuned in” to politics, Bain said. “More recently, more people are getting involved, and that’s made me feel like it’s really time to do something. We’re really tired of sitting around and waiting for the adults.”

Wednesday’s walkout – set to occur at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes – was organized by the youth branch of the Women’s March. Spokane Public Schools has said it will give students unexcused absences if they leave class without a parent’s permission; Coeur d’Alene schools won’t do so as long as the students participate peacefully. And other districts around the region are taking a variety of approaches.

With or without permission, excused or unexcused, the walkout can be a crucial civics lesson for young people – a chance to exercise the conscience of a citizen, which is not the same thing as obedience.

Bain and Lockwood plan to walk out of class Wednesday. They said they weren’t sure how many of their fellow students would join them, but they believe there is widespread support.

Organizers of the walkout are doing it to honor the Parkland students and to call for a series of legislative actions: banning assault weapons, expanding background checks and allowing a court to remove guns from the homes of people who display threatening or alarming behavior. All are ideas that have been promoted and proposed in state legislatures and Congress for many years – all with no widespread success.

That has been the dynamic that this generation has grown up under: a continual stream of mass shootings, shadowed by adult inaction. Many of us with children in schools are appalled at this state of the world, appalled that lockdown drills are as much a part of the classroom as the ABCs.

We are heartsick, but we can’t imagine what it’s like to grow up in this reality. Bain said she thinks about how she should never go to the bathroom without her phone. What if she’s trapped during a shooting and has no way to reach anyone?

She also said that North Central recently opened a new cafeteria area with a walkway above it – a walkway that more than one of her fellow students saw through the lens of a shooting.

“I’ve had multiple conversations with people who are worried about that (making students) a soft target,” she said.

Taking a stand for gun control reliably attracts angry, profane attacks, especially online. Bain runs the March for Our Lives page on Facebook, where she’s been on the receiving end of that vitriol – adults crudely insulting their efforts or trying to shout them down.

The Parkland survivors have been the object of a raft of vicious criticisms and lies, as well as patronizing dismissals that amount to: Leave this to the adults, children.

But these young people are wide awake to the fact that it can’t be left to the adults. The adults haven’t gotten it done.

The current adults, anyway. As Lockwood said, “All the people in high school now are going to be able to vote very soon.”

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