By Ryleigh Norgrove & Sophie Smith
Features Editor & Staff Writer
In a gun control debate often dominated by defeatism, words spoken at Willamette’s Walkout: #Enough! last Wednesday offered a welcome message of hope. “There’s good news out there,” said Reverend Dr. Deb Patterson, a clergywoman and Willamette mother who spoke before the walkout. “Young people like you are standing up, speaking up and not giving up, and things are starting to change.” NRA membership is dwindling, gun control legislation is finally being passed in some states and firearm manufacturers are filing for bankruptcy. “Gun sales are down, my friends,” Dr. Patterson said, evoking cheers from the audience in Jackson Plaza.
Willamette’s walkout was in accordance with a national movement. Protesters marched to the Oregon State Capital for 17 minutes — in memoriam of the 17 students murdered in last month’s Parkland shooting.
“We mourn the 17 people violently gunned down by a teen who had come back to his high school in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day,” said Dr. Patterson. “How was it possible? It was possible because he had access to an AR-15, a rapid fire military-style weapon that’s capable of killing and massively wounding scores of people in seconds.”
At its core, this movement is intent upon making noise and inspiring change. She continued, “It is time for the killings to stop, as you have said. I’m a clergywoman, as [Chaplain Karen Wood] said — a professional thinker and prayer, and I’m here to tell you thoughts and prayers are not enough.”
The success of this wave of activism is largely due to those spearheading it. The students of Stoneman Douglas High School have appeared on national television, debated politicians and NRA representatives and regularly tweet to their millions of f
ollowers. Their perseverance and energy is motivating students across the country.
On the Willamette campus, sophomore Daniel Koenig organized the walkout via Facebook.
“I want to make it clear to Congress we are through with this inaction. They did nothing after Columbine, they did nothing after Sandy Hook, they did nothing after the nightclub shooting. This will not be a shooting after which they do nothing. That’s why this is so important to me,” said Koenig.
While social media activism has been on the rise, its influence is prevalent in the Parkland Shooting. “We are able to take control of the conversation, we can frame it in a positive way and actually make progress happen,” said Koenig. “As opposed to what has happened in past shootings where mass media, especially on the more conservativ
e side, has framed these issues in where progress does not happen.”
Members of the Willamette community agree this movement is particularly powerful because it is student-led. Jack Wellman, President of Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU), said gun violence “affects all schools, whether that be universities, high schools or elementary schools. As college students it is important we are leaders on this issue.”
First-year and ASWU Senator Claire Matthews-Lingen, first year, said, “It’s that self-advocacy piece of actually knowing what your community needs and wants, as opposed to somebody coming from the outside and dictating that.” She added that the walkout “shows that we think this is valued almost over our education, at this point it’s gotten to.”
Professors and students alike attended the walkout. Gaetano DeLeonibus, a Willamette French professor who walked out with his class, thinks student activists can show lawmakers how to affect positive change, without being tied to interests groups like the NRA. “It’s a very good thing that they’re showing the politicians how they should be independent,” he said. “The momentum needs to be kept up.”
On the protest as a whole, Professor DeLeonibus said, “Having been a student, and having been active as a student when I was your age, I definitely value the demonstrating and voicing your opinion in general. I think that’s a very positive thing.”
Junior Kylah Clay touched on the WU faculty involvement.
“You saw the professors who are supporting students who are missing class right now to do this, because I think that really shows their commitment to our safetyw and supporting us in this really tough conversation,”
For many students, the issue of gun violence is personal. “There was an instance where I was a sophomore in high school where a student brought a gun to school and committed suicide in one of our bathrooms,” said first yearShelby Weisberg. “This is very personal to me. It’s not something far away, it is something that was a very scary reality.”
Other students have family members in public schools who have been affected by gun violence, or were disillusioned by the federal government’s lack of action.
“I’m walking out in protest to the normalcy of gun violence. Our government needs to be a more active voice in that discussion, and set aside allegiance to the NRA and protect the people who live here,” said Weisberg.
Natalie Lyell, sophomore, also walked at the front of the march. “I’m really proud seeing everyone flood in,” she said, “because taking action now and choosing to get that absence, choosing to leave class and have it be awkward, that prevents us from having to have a funeral for people that we go to class with.”
As the Willamette Community continues to engage politically, students are encouraged by Chaplain Karen Wood’s words. “Do not give up.” She continued to promote the value of student activism, saying “I remember, after Sandy Hook, giving into despair and cynicism. So you all give me hope. You all give me hope. Do not give up. Do not give up.”
In reflection of the protest, Koenig added, “I hope this means they [students] will take what Paul [Professor at WU’s School of Law Dr. Diller] and Deb [Reverend Dr. Deb Patterson] said to heart, and get active in the political process. Whether that means voting for things up and down the ballot, or lobbying at the capital or organizing their own events like this.”
This Saturday, March 24, a second student-led march will be held in Salem. The Willamette community is encouraged to participate in March For Our Lives Salem, which will meet at 11am on the Capitol steps.