One month after the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida that killed seventeen people, thousands of students in Madison, Wisconsin joined their counterparts across the nation and walked out of school.
Braving the tail end of a Wisconsin winter, thousands converged on the state capitol building in the center of the city, spanning out in a sea-like mass, climbing up on pedestals surrounding the enormous, columned Beaux-Arts structure, and leading one another in chants of “Hey, hey NRA, how many kids did you kill today?”
Some students piled into cars and drove from small-town high schools in nearby communities. One group from Lake Mills High School a half hour outside Madison, showed up to the capitol early and headed inside to the rotunda. Lake Mills High School student Lulu Collins, seventeen, thought she would be among the only ones to go through with the seventeen-minute walkout at her school (one minute for each Parkland student who died).
“I had tears when I looked behind me and saw the walkout like almost a fourth of a mile long,” Collins said. “Our school’s small, we only have 500 students.”
Outside, the crowd quickly swelled from a few hundred to many thousands, as marching students arrived from other high schools to surround the capitol building. As hundreds rounded the corner from the east, the assembled crowd whooped in encouragement.
Their signs read, “Arm teachers with grants, not guns,” “Spread love not fear,” and simply “Are we next?”
Volunteers from various local groups, including Indivisible Madison, showed up to register eighteen-year-old students to vote, offer socialist literature, and even hand out free snacks. Capitol staffers waved from the windows. Eventually, students carried their protest into the building.
Beforehand, a class of fourth graders from the small Wisconsin town of Genessee were touring the capitol building. It’s a familiar sight—fourth graders from Wisconsin public schools have made this field trip pilgrimage for decades. One of the young Genesee students told me he was not participating in the day’s protest.
“But I support this,” he stated. “It’s just so sad that kids get shot.”
The day before the walkout, activists laid shoes on the southeast lawn of the U.S. Capitol, a pair for every one of the 7,000 children killed by a firearm since the shooting at Sandy Hook.
Students and other activists are also planning March for Our Lives on March 24 to urge lawmakers to pass gun control measures.
Alexandra Tempus is associate editor of The Progressive.