Hundreds of thousands of high schoolers are expected to participate in walkouts to demand gun reform

High schoolers during a walkout to demand gun reform

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Friday’s dispatch: Teens plan walkout in the hundreds of thousands

The March for Our Lives has drawn international attention as survivors of the Feb. 14 Florida high school shooting have morphed into leading voices in the gun control movement. Organizers estimate 500,000 people will march along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, with hundreds of simultaneous marches around the world likely to draw thousands more into the streets on March 24.

Organizers of school walkouts in March and April, separate from the March for Our Lives, say they have also secured the support of hundreds of thousands of high schoolers who will demand stronger gun laws by leaving school. Madison Thomas, a junior at Georgetown University, told Mic the Women’s March National School Walkout she has helped to organize has more than 1,650 schools participating. Lane Murdock, a high school sophomore in Ridgefield, Connecticut, told Mic more than 1,140 schools have signed onto the National School Walkout she created.

The Women’s March estimates 185,000 students will participate in its March 14 walkout, while Murdock believes at least 200,000 students will join her April 20 walkout on the anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.

That would send the better part of half a million people, primarily high schoolers, out of class and into the streets in March and April to demand stronger gun laws. Even for the Trump era, that nationwide turnout would be among the leading protest events in U.S. history — and perhaps the largest ever for high schoolers.

“The students and kids are so inspiring, stepping up when adults won’t do something about it,” said Thomas, who has studied economics and government while coordinating college organizing for the Women’s March since November 2016. “To be using the three different actions [two walkouts and March for our Lives] as an escalating force against gun violence and for gun reform is an incredible movement to be a part of.”

The Trump era has yet to see protest quite like these walkouts. The first Women’s March, on Jan. 21, 2017, drew upwards of 3 million people into the streets at more than 600 marches nationwide. This is the model that March for Our Lives has followed: fewer events with larger turnout at each. Organizers of the march did not respond to multiple requests for comment about how many participants they expect.

In contrast, the school-by-school structure of the walkouts will expose hundreds of thousands or millions of students at thousands of high schools to dialogue and organizing around gun violence. Organizers still have about two weeks before the Women’s March walkout and more than a month until the National School Walkout to continue to raise awareness among high schoolers. Thousands of high schools have signed on since the walkouts were announced less than two weeks ago.

Lower total numbers of people participating in the high school walkouts, compared to an event like the first Women’s March, obscures the difference in scale. In 2017, there were about 15 million students enrolled at U.S. public high schools. Even if there is overlap between the March 14 and April 20 walkouts, combined attendance of 250,000 high school students would represent about 1.7% of all high schoolers. If you accept around 4 million people participated in the first Women’s March, a middle of the road estimate, that was about 1.2% of the total U.S. population.

Murdock said the growth of her walkout has been entirely organic, with more high schools adding themselves on her website each day. She is focused on helping the “founders” of walkouts at each high school — she has an email list with more than a thousand student leaders, each at a different school — connect with her toolkit that encourages teacher and student participation, speeches from local leaders, holding a moment of silence and, above all, open discussion free of partisan demands.

With her walkout announced and growing organically, Murdock said she has found more time in the last week to focus on schoolwork. Plus, “I’m turning 16 between now and my protest,” she added.

The Women’s March walkout has a more concrete political focus. The organization hopes walkout participants push their elected officials to back legislation that bans military-style firearms, institutes universal background checks on gun sales and allows law enforcement to remove guns from someone who is deemed a threat. Over the next two weeks, Women’s March youth organizers will focus on connecting with high schoolers who may be left out of the initial wave of online walkout organizing.

?[We’re reaching out to] communities that wouldn’t normally participate,” Thomas said. “We’re focusing a lot on black and brown communities because they are disproportionately affected by gun violence.” Black Americans, for example, are the victims of more than half of gun killings but make up only 14% of the population. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, a black man is 13 times more likely than a white man to be killed in a shooting.

It appears this advocacy may be necessary to force lawmakers to act. Congress will not pass any new legislation this week to address gun violence. Next week, the Senate plans to focus on banking deregulation, not guns. House leaders have said they will move on guns after the Senate acts. And President Donald Trump has ping-ponged between pro- and anti-gun control positions for the past several days.

The Senate is in session through March 23 prior to a weeklong break. Hundreds of thousands will gather in Washington and in cities nationwide on March 24 for the March for Our Lives.

Today’s question: Are you going to participate in the walkouts on March 14 or April 20?

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Friday’s Dispatch:

Guns latest: Trump touted a “great” meeting with the National Rifle Association late Thursday as the group’s top lobbyist suggested the president had backed off gun control proposals he floated earlier this week.

REI announced it will stop carrying products from Vista Outdoor after Vista, which owns a gun brand in addition to several brands that REI carries, said it would not make a statement on how it will address gun violence. It’s notable because while REI does not sell guns, it is punishing other Vista products to push Vista toward action on guns.

Hundreds of people gathered at a church in Pennsylvania for a blessing of couples — carrying AR-15s along as part of their religious dress.

Georgia lawmakers passed a law that did not include a tax break for jet fuel — effectively punishing Delta Airlines, headquartered in Atlanta, for ending its discount for NRA members.

In Congress, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday he will not bring up gun legislation next week. Senators are struggling to even reach the 60 votes necessary to pass a bill that would improve the existing gun background check system, let alone expand it, as the overwhelming majority of Americans wish.

The March for Our Lives rally was bumped from the National Mall after the National Park Service said a much smaller “talent show” had already reserved the space.

An NPR investigation finds close ties between a former top Russian politician and the NRA. Alexander Torshin bragged on Twitter, in Russian, that his ties to the NRA gave him access to Trump and U.S. politics.

“Einstein visa”: The Washington Post investigates how, In 2001, Melania Trump got a visa to the U.S. for “extraordinary ability” as a model.

Tariffs: The president announced Thursday he will impose aggressive tariffs on steel and aluminum imports to protect American manufacturers. Republicans, along with foreign leaders, blasted the move. The decision pits Trump against the traditionally free-trade base of the GOP.

H.R. McMaster: It’s unclear why, but NBC News reports that national security adviser H.R. McMaster, one of the generals who has advised Trump for about a year, will soon leave his job at the White House.

Ivanka investigation: FBI officials are investigating Ivanka Trump’s role in a business deal to open a Trump International Hotel and Tower in Vancouver, Canada, CNN reports.

Jared Kushner: The probes and politics that portend the potential downfall of a longtime adviser to the president.

Mueller’s next target? Russians who hacked and disseminated emails from the Democratic National Committee, NBC News reports.

Banking deregulation: Next week, the Senate may pass a bill that guts key provisions of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law passed by Congress after the 2008 financial crisis. This New Republic article explains how Senate Democrats friendly to large banks are working with Republicans to lessen regulations on banks in the bill to be considered next week.

Some lawmakers want strong regulation only on banks with at least $250 billion in assets; the current point at which stronger regulations kick-in is $50 billion. Countrywide, the mortgage provider that collapsed during the financial crisis, had $200 billion in assets.

Bizarre story: Senators say House Republicans leaked texts of Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the top Democrat investigating alleged Trump-Russia ties in the Senate, to the media.

Ben Carson: The housing and urban development secretary says he is trying to cancel the purchase of a $31,000 dining set for his government office.

Scott Pruitt: The Environmental Protection Agency administrator, under fire for spending tens of thousands of dollars on first class plane tickets, now says he will fly economy, at least sometimes.

Tax polling: A new poll from a pro-Trump group found nearly half of Americans (constituting a plurality of Americans) believe House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was correct when she said Republicans gave most Americans “crumbs” in their tax bill.