To Commissioner Steven Rogers, and whomever else it may concern,
My name is Gabrielle Mackiewicz, and I am a 15-year-old sophomore at Nutley High School. On Wednesday, March 14, 2018, I took part in the National School Walkout at 10:00 a.m., and I have seen a lot of your ideas about the event on several different social media platforms. I am writing this to address some of these concerns.
First, I should make it clear that I am not writing this letter to push my opinions about the issue of gun violence in America. While it is obvious that we have differing views on the matter, it is not my intent to start a debate. I am writing this to relate to you the events of Wednesday, since you seen to be misinformed about what happened at the walkout and its purpose.
I think it is important to begin by addressing the fact that you have continuously stated that my fellow classmates and I were “political props” in this protest. This is simply untrue. The walkout was an event created for students, by students. The four individuals who organized the protest did so by themselves- they explained details to their classmates through social media, held meetings during our lunch hour to spread information, and were able to arrange a functional and orderly protest. We were not goaded into leaving school for 17 minutes by the school district, “special interest groups,” “progressives,” or any other adults. All who participated did so of their own free will. We were not pressured by others.
In a Facebook livestream you did Wednesday evening, you stressed that this was a political movement. And you are right. But it was not the result of “leftists” and “progressives,” or any other vague grouping of adults. It was the result of students taking action, and it started with the survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
We, as young adults have seen the horrors of gun violence throughout our entire lives: we have seen countless mass shootings, our peers being massacred in schools where they should be safe, and lives destroyed by firearms. We have had enough, and we are calling for you, the adults, to help us by making change at the source: legislation. The walkout was meant to express this, and to honor the 17 lives lost at the shooting in Parkland. This was common knowledge, as this was the basis for all of the other protests across the country, and the organizers of the walkout in Nutley made their intentions very clear to students. To honor those killed I, along sixteen of my fellow classmates, read the names of each of the victims, along with a brief description of their lives. It was a solemn moment.
I understand that another worry of yours involved security at this event, and this concern is justified, considering the recent threat that Nutley received. However, faculty and police officers completely surrounded all of us students who participated as we stood on the basketball court of Yanticaw Park. Officers blocked off nearby roads to ensure our safety as we protested. I know that teachers at NHS were contacted and asked if they would help secure the area if they had a preparatory period at that time. This was the only way they were involved in the walkout itself.
It is essential to realize that in our school there were no victims from the walkout. Those who did not participate and those who had their own counter protests in the midst of our event were not made to feel less than by the school administration. Whether or not someone attended was completely by their own choice. The administration remained neutral in all discussion, and were only involved to allow students to utilize the freedoms given to them in the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States in a safe way. For those who did not attend, classes went on as normal: at the end of the 17 minutes, students who did participate quietly returned to class. The lessons continued on.
Students who are very pro-gun who attended the walkout- which was very clearly organized, in part, to call for an end to gun violence in our schools- knew full well what they were getting themselves into by showing up to this event. Many of them brought signs reading “2A” and yelled about the Second Amendment in the middle of the protest. Of course, as you have expressed, they had every right to do this just as we did. But once again, they were not victims. Several of these students were very disruptive at the event, and were quite disrespectful. When honoring the victims of the Parkland school shooting, they continued to shout about their “2A” ideals. This is what angered myself, as well as many of my classmates, the most. The insolence that comes with yelling about your love of guns while others mourn the loss of 17 people killed by an assault rifle is disheartening, and frankly disgusting.
By spreading this misinformation to the people of Nutley and your supporters, you are spreading a false narrative, dare I call it fake news, about our peaceful protest. According to you, the town of Nutley, NJ is your priority, so please reflect that when talking about what happens here. We may just be “kids” now, but my peers and I are the next generation of voters, and we will be at the voting booth very soon. We are ready for change. You have said you want to listen to the people and what we have to say. I hope you were not only talking about those who agree with you.