By Robert Mittendorf / The Bellingham Herald
BELLINGHAM — A demonstration among students Wednesday at Bellingham schools began with an Instagram message about gun violence two days after a gunman killed 17 people at a Florida high school.
“I just posted asking, ‘Hey, I’m having a walkout at school. Who’s interested?’ ” said Maggie Davis-Bower, a Squalicum High junior and herself a witness to gun violence.
In September 2016, Davis-Bower and her mother hid behind a counter the Macy’s in Burlington a gunman walked past, firing shots that killed five people in the Cascade Mall. She and others who organized the rally said the violence has to stop.
Students left classes at 11:22 a.m., the time the first shots rang out at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the Miami suburb of Parkland. They walked, car-pooled or drove to City Hall for the rally.
Just a day after Davis-Bower’s Instagram query, students from all four Bellingham high schools began meeting to discuss strategies for the Wednesday rally — part of a surging movement in the face of a horrific toll of American mass killings. Already, nationwide protests have been set for March 14, March 24 and April 20, which marks 19 years since the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado that sparked the modern surge of mass school shootings.
“Every revolution started like this,” said Noah Lovell, a Squalicum junior as he helped make protest signs with about two dozen of his peers Tuesday at a student’s home. “The most effective weapons and tools to use is the grass roots. Our goal is just to get our schools’ attention.”
On Tuesday, student organizers discussed the walkout with school officials and got permits from the city — then notified police, local media and Seattle TV.
“This is getting a lot bigger,” said Sehome High sophomore Thomas Cassella. “Where’s this going to go? We’ve already seen a huge response.”
Both Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville and schools Superintendent Greg Baker lent their support.
“We are proud of the students who are organizing this event and collaborating with their peers across the district to take action in something they believe in,” Baker said in a statement Tuesday. “We support students’ rights to have a voice in our democracy. Peaceful protest and advocacy can be part of a powerful learning experience.”
District spokeswoman Jackie Brawley said students who participate won’t be disciplined, but will be responsible for having their absences excused. Middle-schoolers were planning a similar walkout in support of the high schools, she said, but students wouldn’t be allowed to leave campus without parental consent.
Lovell and other organizers said the Bellingham students have three immediate goals:
• For government to make it harder for some people to buy guns.
• For people to understand that more guns aren’t the answer to gun violence.
• For schools to address growing violence with concrete measures, such as metal detectors and self-defense education.
And they want more communication from school administrators and city leaders.
Students said the only training they get is regular lockdown drills that they ridiculed as ineffective. They were surprised — and comforted — to learn Tuesday that Bellingham Police and firefighters regularly train for “active shooter” situations in schools.
“We have to know what to do if we’re in danger,” Cassella said.
Squalicum junior Sheyla Turudija, who is considering a career in law enforcement, said she wants to see more public outreach from the school and police.
“All we’re told to do is get under our desks and hope for the best,” Turudija said.
“I feel there is a revolution in the making,” said Catherine Pouber, a Squalicum junior.