Sunday, May 26, 2024

Students rally for gun control Thursday at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. (Photos: Jean Cummings)

In the second walkout in two weeks of Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School students rallying for gun control, a group of dedicated activists continued to press for legal and cultural change.

While a March 7 morning event revolved around 17 minutes of silence for each of the victims of the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting on Feb. 14, today’s end-of-school event was an organized rally with one moment of silence, six speakers, chants, orange ribbons pinned onto jackets, a school-provided lectern and sound system, and voter-registration forms. Today’s rally was rescheduled from the nationwide Wednesday walkout because a snowstorm had closed Cambridge schools.

Several speakers pressed for continued engagement in the fight for greater gun control. “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try,” Mayor Marc McGovern urged, quoting President John F. Kennedy. McGovern joined four students and one teacher in speaking to the crowd.

“What do we want? Gun control! When do we want it? Now!” the crowd repeated as camera operators from at least two local news stations wandered through. “Hey hey ho ho, the NRA has got to go.”

The crowd, though, was considerably smaller than last week’s event, with 200 to 300 students gathered outside the school shortly after the 2:17 p.m. start time, compared with about 500 last week. Several students took the opportunity to leave campus early; several others stayed inside the school. The crowd shrunk as the rally wore on.

Cambridge Education Association president Dan Monahan and junior Honor O’Shaughnessy at the CRLS rally she helped organize.

Junior Honor O’Shaughnessy, who organized the event with three other students and was one of the speakers, said afterward that the attrition was expected. On the whole, though, she said, “it went pretty well.”

O’Shaughnessy noted in her speech that even though school had been canceled Wednesday, several CRLS students had “persevered” and rallied at the Massachusetts State House in solidarity with students protesting across the nation. (A small group of Putnam Avenue Upper School students rallied at Cambridge’s City Hall.) She called for several specific actions: federal bans on assault-style rifles and bump stocks; a federal minimum age to buy a firearm; universal background checks; and passage of the Massachusetts Extreme Risk Protective Order rallied for last week.

She also “supported non-legislative goals such as the boycotting of the NRA and affiliated businesses, holistic approaches to violence in schools – and not arming teachers.”

Finally, she and others called for marching together to mark the Washington, D.C., March for Our Lives on March 24 and urged people to lobby representatives, post on social media and follow boycotts on companies who invest in the gun industry and support the National Rifle Association lobbying organization.

Inside the school

Student protest signs capture the themes of Thursday’s walkout.

While the group of dedicated students listened attentively to speeches, chanted and waved signs provided by the organizers or made by themselves, others stayed behind in classrooms working on assignments, or loitered by windows looking down on the crowd.

“Nothing’s going to change,” said one student in a third-floor hallway. “What difference is it really going to make?” asked a friend of hers. “We’re just one school.” She felt that the work has to be at the national level and that students from just one school aren’t going to be “heard” by the people who matter – even if many schools were doing the same thing.

Several other students inside agreed. “I think it’s worthwhile, but I think it needs to be more clear what the movement actually stands for,” said another student. Although the rallying crowd could be seen from the windows, it was difficult to make out any of the speeches, such as O’Shaughnessy’s specific objectives from inside the school.

A student with a NRA hat said he objected because he is “a proud supporter of the Second Amendment.” He launched into an argument that fully automatic weapons “are already banned,” semi-automatic weapons “include handguns, and therefore you would be talking about a blanket gun ban.” Several students nearby rolled their eyes.

There were quite a few students, all female, who said that they were not outside because they don’t feel comfortable with crowds or chanting.

A special “X-block” period earlier in the day was dedicated to a schoolwide discussion in individual homerooms about gun control. Students and staff viewed CNN videos in which a young woman debates with a member of the NRA, and a father of a daughter killed in the Florida school shooting debates U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. In some classrooms, some students of color raised the issue that there had been no such national attention and student-led walkouts in reaction to the huge number of individual people of color being killed by strangers, accident or police – an argument that resonated with some students.

“It was very well done,” said one teacher of the presentations. “But I noticed there was no discussion of the role of student activism.”

A history teacher standing by a window – waiting for students to finish their work before he could go outside to listen to the rally – noted the lower turnout. “There’s a small group of very political students here. And then there’s the rest,” he said with some regret. He said that in recent years, he feels more apathy, more of a sense that students feel that they can have no impact over bigger issues outside of their school.

A first-year student who took part enthusiastically in the entire rally, told that several students felt that this would not make any difference, said, “Well, that’s what the legislators want us to feel.”