Hundreds of students from Portland-area middle and high schools walked out of class today to gather in front of City Hall in a protest against gun violence.
The Portland demonstration is one of nearly 2,000 taking place across the U.S. as part of a National School Walkout. The event, scheduled on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting, is a plea to legislators to increase safety in schools by enacting gun reform.
It also comes about a month after the nationwide March For Our Lives protest, which drew tens of thousands of Portlanders (and Portugal The Man) downtown in outrage over the Parkland, Fla. school shooting.
David Douglas students Lynn Noriega, a junior, and Kristen Gossman, a sophomore, are on the eight-person "Walkout Coalition" that organized the event. They say the group has been working since late February to plan the protest.
"We deserve to feel safe in so many places," Noriega says, "mosques, churches, malls—but especially school. We spend so much of our time there."
Gossman and Noriega were joined by around a dozen student speakers who took turns addressing the crowd from a small megaphone on the steps of city hall.
"This has to end," one student shouted to the overflowing plaza. "We have a chance to change the world, and we're going to vote to take NRA (the National Rifle Association) out of office!"
Other student speakers encouraged peers to engage more with their representatives and on social media to demand gun control.
"There have been 20 school shootings this year and that is way too many," Asher, a Lincoln High School student bellowed into the megaphone at one point. "We want this to end!"
"Who is going to vote in November's election?" another inquired of the jeering crowd—to which one young person said softly to a friend nearby, "My parents."
One parent, Kate Foster, was there with her 11-year-old daughter who walked out of class today with roughly 100 other classmates from Sunnyside—a local K-8 school.
"This is a big deal," Foster said. "I'm just here to support them."
As a handful of city hall security personnel stood idly by, chants like "NRA, Not Today," "What do we want? Safer Schools. When do we want it? Now," and "Turn up the heat," broke out through the crowd.
At one point, a hush fell over the large group of students as they all raised fists in a short showing of solidarity.
"If every person here acts," a student organizer exclaimed, "we can put an end to gun violence. How many more lives have to be sacrificed? None!"