SAFER participates in national walkout

Protest held by student organization SAFER gathers large, multi-school turnout in South Park

By Anahita Hurt and William Yanek

On Friday, thousands of students across the nation walked out of school in memoriam to one of the deadliest school shootings in American history at Columbine High School. This year, being the 19th Anniversary of the tragedy, held special significance in the wake of the massacre in Parkland, Florida in February. Lawrence High School students did their part by walking out of school at 10 am, with many of them marching to South Park.

However, protests like these do not just orchestrate themselves.

SAFER, or Students Advocating Firearm Education & Reform, is a student organization led by sophomore Sami Turner and senior Chisato Kimura. SAFER was created after the first walkout at Lawrence High on February 23rd.

SAFER was created by Kimura when she noticed that despite the anti-gun violence movement being received well at Lawrence High, it had no official organization. Kimura felt the responsibility fell on her to create it.

“SAFER is about creating a place for students to share their views about gun reform,” Turner said, “and help mobilize people to create the change that they want to see in regards to creating safer schools and communities.”

SAFER was instrumental in arranging a walkout on March 14th, and they also attended a gun control rally in Topeka on March 24th. Lawrence’s branch of the nationwide walkout was organized by SAFER.

“It was really a team effort, it wasn’t just me, it was everyone working together to do their little part,” Kimura said. “We had to contact people who would be speaking, or getting food, things like that, so. All of us were just working together.”

The protest in South Park was different from previous protests, as it occured from 10:00 am till the end of the school day. Although it began on campus, it took place off campus for the majority of the event.

“The [protests] we’ve had at Lawrence High School have been a little bit underwhelming because I think there was lack of organization and people weren’t really aware that they were happening. So, this one, we’ve been kind of gearing up for it, and saying, ‘look this is happening, here, this is what’s going on, everyone come,’ so I think we’ll have better turn out,” Kimura said. “We also have a better picture of what we want to gain and the organization of it, in terms of speakers, walking out, music, all of that stuff, we have all organized. I think it’s going to work out a lot smoother.”

The event included musical performances from two student bands, The Arsonists and Wild Boar. There were booths for League of Women Voters, Moms Demand Action, and the Black Student Alliance from Lawrence High. Food was provided by Hy-Vee, Fuzzy’s, and Papa Keno’s.

“Basically, we’ve been working with members of the community like Douglas County Democrats and Moms Demand Action. We brainstormed some ideas of what we want it to look like. We created a schedule,” Turner said. “We’re reaching out to different speakers, to different local businesses to try and get some free food. It was really nice to go to the rally at the capital so that we could see what a big rally looks like and take some of those ideas.”

SAFER believes it’s time for Kansas to take legislative action ensuring safety from gun violence for every citizen as well as making sure students feel safe in school. They feel they have tremendous student and community support, even with some having differing political views.

“…I want everyone to know just a little bit more about gun reform and stuff because I feel like it can be an educational experience for people, and I want people to feel inspired that their voice can make a change, no matter how old they are,” Turner said. “Also, with the legislators being there, hopefully they can see that this is very important to students and the community as a whole, and hopefully at the next legislative session, they’ll be able to take to take some action.”

Kimura and Turner’s goal is to advocate for school safety legislation as well as reasonable gun policy throughout the nation. They also want to help students of color feel included in the movement, and to garner community support.

“I’m walking out because I think that there does need to be more legislation to create safer schools and create more gun policy and gun reform throughout, you know, not just Kansas, but the whole country,” Kimura said. “I want to see more community support for our cause and I want to see more unity, really, you know, there’s been a little bit of backlash to the movement, because some people are saying it’s exclusive to people of color and hopefully this walkout will be able to turn this around at Lawrence High and in Lawrence. Hopefully the big picture is to create better legislation and gun reform.”

Another event during the protest at South Park was a forum with local politicians. The questions were submitted and reviewed by moderators. The politicians each chose a question to answer, including time for background.

“I want legislators to know that students care about this issue, as well as the community as a whole,” Turner said. “I want students to feel empowered and voters to get registered as well, for us to unify, to have hope going forward, and to know this is just the beginning and we’re going to keep on going till we see action.

Junior Adi Spears and Senior Rollin Love were the student moderators of the forum.

Spears joined SAFER because she felt there was too much gun violence in schools and wanted to help make a difference. Love was a part of the initial group chat which became the student organization.

“I feel like gun violence in particular is such an important issue that it deserves its own club attention. I feel like it shouldn’t just fall under the jurisdiction of Can We Talk or FYI,” Love said. “There was group of student in the initial walkout group chat that felt like we needed to do more than just stage these protests, we want an organized club, so me and a few other people…decided to form a club.”

Questions for the forum were pre-selected. Participants of the walkout were allowed to submit questions during the walkout, and the process was explained to them before the forum began.

“I am leading the forum with our legislators,” Spears said. “We’re talking to our representatives, and we don’t have the questions yet, but we’re going to ask them about gun reform and what’s happening right now, kind of have like a legislative update, ask them what they’re doing, what are their views, what they think would work.”

One of the major goals of this walkout was to better inform people and inspire them to vote. By providing a forum for politicians and others to discuss issues of gun policy, awareness is raised and voter turnout increases.

“We were initially deciding to do a town hall, but then realized that could get hectic because it’s open to the public and any questions can be asked. So, we’re having some pre-sampled questions we are going to ask of local politicians, just so people understand their viewpoints and their perspectives,” Love said. “Because a part of this movement isn’t just advocating for new legislation but it’s also empowering voters to make decisions based on this important issue. So we want people to know what their policies on these issues are so they can vote accordingly.”

Spears’s mom, Norine Spears, contributed her time and energy into helping SAFER develop this walkout. Norine Spears is also a member of Moms Demand Action, who donated to SAFER and had a booth at the walkout.

“She wanted to support me and she knows a lot of our representatives, and she was able to help us get in contact with them,” Spears said. “She’s helped us figured out how to run the forum, and different things she knows about marches. She’s also does an education rally, or she has in the past, so she knows about, kind of, how to do a march.”

Initially, around 300 students walked out of Lawrence High at 10:00 am, to honor those who lost their lives to gun violence. Some returned to class after the 17 minutes, and some students travelled between the protest and school to avoid missing specific classes. Students from multiple Lawrence schools came to South Park to attend the protest, including Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, Southwest Middle School, West Middle School, Free State High School, and Lawrence High School.

“The walkout was very successful. Most of the attendees were students from different schools all across Lawrence. Feeling their support was amazing,” junior Quinlan Muller said. “LHS had hundreds of people walk to South Park, not even including the people who still attended the 17 minute walkout but had to go back to class for one reason or another. Their support was vital as well.”

Muller was also a moderator for the SAFER walkout during the speaker portion.

“I am in SAFER Club because I, along with some other students at LHS, saw a niche to be filled regarding advocating for gun education and protecting our school by keeping guns out,” Muller said. “Many people are quick to jump to the conclusion that we need more guns to protect ourselves, but they are often not knowledgeable on the subject, just pro gun.”

Above all, Muller wants to make it apparent to legislators that these protesting students are here to stay.

“I got involved in SAFER Club because I could no longer accept idleness as people of color were being shot down in the streets and students became afraid of coming to the one safe place that they have besides their own home,” Muller said. “I decided to walk out because enough is enough. If our local and federal representatives refuse to listen to us, then see us. We let ourselves be seen today.”