Camryn Stalvey spent first period at Montgomery Blair High School on Wednesday sketching a handgun on a piece of poster board.
She drew a red circle around the gun. Then, a red line striking it out.
Around Camryn, classmates at the Silver Spring school were busy creating their own protest signs, all declaring that Montgomery County’s teens have had enough.
Enough of gun violence and enough of hearing about students dying at school.
On Wednesday, Camryn, 16, and her classmates joined teens from at least six other Montgomery County high schools in storming the nation’s capital to deliver their message on Congress’ doorstep.
“Your hands. Our blood,” a sea of teens chanted on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
The student-led protest—coordinated in response to the recent school shooting in Florida—began earlier that morning, when the school system estimates about 1,300 teens from across the county walked out of class. Escorted by county police on motorcycles, students at Blair marched along Colesville Road to the Silver Spring Metro station. Students from Richard Montgomery High in Rockville also made their way to the nearest station.
Hundreds of Blair High students march down Colesville Road for walkout to protest gun violence pic.twitter.com/IaAoRZwUul
— Bethany Rodgers (@BethRodgersBB) February 21, 2018
The groups of high schoolers convened in a massive crowd beneath the Union Station portico, and from there, walked together to the Capitol.
They carried signs that read, “March for Our Lives,” and, “Protect Kids, Not Guns.” They wrote the locations of mass shootings—Orlando, Columbine—in marker on their arms.
After rallying in front of the Capitol, they marched about 2 miles to the White House, drawing cheers and applause from passersby. Police stopped traffic so the procession could pass, federal workers offered encouragement and joggers halted in their tracks to snap a photo.
“I think the youth are powerful, and our voices are powerful,” said Rosie Silvers, a senior from Richard Montgomery High School.
MCPS students at the rally. Credit: Bethany Rodgers
Montgomery County Public Schools said students from Blair, Richard Montgomery, Albert Einstein in Kensington, Northwood in Silver Spring, Bethesda-Chevy Chase and Thomas S. Wootton in Rockville participated in the demonstration. Students from Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda also formed part of the crowd.
Many of the students said they’ve long seen the need for stricter gun control laws, but felt moved to immediate action after the recent shooting that claimed 17 lives in Parkland, Florida. Mathis Kreuzburg, a Blair sophomore, said she went to soccer camp a couple years ago with a student who attends Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Mathis said she read on social media that her friend escaped the shooting unharmed, but still, the personal connection with the tragedy shook her own sense of security.
“I was scared to go to school,” said Mathis, who marched Wednesday with her younger sister.
The students said they want meaningful action from the nation’s leaders to prevent acts of violence like the Florida shooting in the future. Thoughts and prayers don’t cut it, they said.
“It’s useless, really, if you’re not going to change anything. … It’s basically like watching,” said Mackenzie Henriques, a senior from Richard Montgomery.
Student organizer Daniel Gelillo of Richard Montgomery said he’d like to see a national ban on assault-style weapons. Many in the crowd decried the influence that the National Rifle Association exerts over the country’s elected leaders.
Even though many of the students that were in the crowd are too young to vote, they said lawmakers would be foolhardy to ignore them. They are the electorate of the near future, they said.
Edwin Johnson IV, an Einstein student, chalked up the federal inaction on gun control to a lack of fresh perspective.
Edwin Johnson IV. Credit: Bethany Rodgers
“Old people still in power. Old ideas and old commitments,” he said.
Surrounded by hundreds of other students, though, Edwin said he felt empowered and hopeful that “we can do this together.”
Blair teacher Samir Paul, who is also running for state delegate, took a day off work to accompany the students to D.C. and said the experience filled him with pride in the county’s young people.
“To see them stand up like this and stand together and basically do it all on their own. It gives me a deep and abiding hope in the future,” said Paul, who added that he made the trip in a personal capacity and not as an MCPS representative.
In many places across the nation, young people are speaking out following the Florida shooting. Teens from Stoneman Douglas met with lawmakers in Florida’s capital on Wednesday, and students in Kentucky and Arizona protested.
The organizers behind the Women’s March on Washington are coordinating a national school walkout planned for March 14, and student organizers have scheduled a D.C. march on March 24. Thousands have signed up to participate in another student walkout set for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting.
“I want you to know that America’s high school students are leading a revolution against political complacency and collusion with the NRA,” U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Takoma Park Democrat, said to the protestors at the Capitol. “And I want you to know that you are not only acting in solidarity with the students from Parkland … but you are acting in the finest tradition of America’s young people who have always stood up to change America when nobody else would do it.”
MCPS principals have asked students not to leave their school campuses for the walkouts, in the interests of safety, and have created other opportunities for teens to express their concerns. Participation in Wednesday’s walkout was considered an unexcused absence.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Capitol Police described the student demonstration in D.C. as “peaceful and orderly.”
“The NRA has got to go” –MCPS students from high schools across county chant in front of US Capitol pic.twitter.com/HR5Usxdk7Q
— Bethany Rodgers (@BethRodgersBB) February 21, 2018
A panoramic view of the student protest at the U.S. Capitol. Credit: Ele Eschenburg.
Bethany Rodgers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.