Thousands of high school and college students are preparing to walk out of their classrooms Wednesday, March 14 as part of a national walkout to call for stricter gun control laws. That includes teens in traditionally red states, like Georgia.
Youth Radio’s Tyler Jones, a sophomore at Grady High School in Atlanta, Georgia., sat down with Cali Chalfant, an organizer of the walkout at Grady. Cali shared her ideas on why she believes students’ voices need to be heard.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
TYLER JONES: How have students at Grady High School responded to plans for a walkout?
CALI CHALFANT: Within an hour I already had 70 people RSVP. For me personally, I think it’s a message to show that students are capable of a lot more than adults give us credit for. The government is not doing anything about gun control right now, and so we are trying to show them that students can make that happen, whether it is protesting or calling our congressmen. We have the power to do this.
Why are students’ voices important in this movement?
I think it’s important because we are the main people being affected by this right now. There are other mass shootings, but school mass shootings have become more common. This shooting in Parkland, Florida could have been at Grady. It could have been at one of our neighboring schools. It could have been anywhere. We are young, we are scared, and we felt in the past that we couldn’t do anything to change this. I think that now we are realizing that we can use our voices to make a difference.
How important are young people’s voices in making any sort of change?
I think that young people have led so many different movements; this wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last. Right now you have the right to carry a concealed weapon on a college campus [in Georgia], and I hope that [the walkout/further protests] will change that. You should have to go through more to get a gun. We are not trying to take away any guns, we aren’t trying to take away the Second Amendment; we are trying to make it safer for students to go to school.
What do you think this walkout will mean for the future of young people’s voices?
I think that this is a huge step. We have had a lot of mass shootings, and I’ve never seen anything like this before and of this magnitude. I think that this will wake some people up, and I think it will change a lot about how students think that they can make a difference.
What feels different about the conversation following this particular mass shooting?
It was the students in Parkland, Florida. that made this different. The way that we saw this shooting was different than any other. We had footage from the kids themselves. It’s also so close to us: from Georgia to Florida, it’s not that far. We had students here that knew people [from Parkland]. I think it really is the students that took the initiative and said, “this needs to be stopped.”
The walkouts, which will happen Wednesday at 10 a.m. local time and last at least 17 minutes, come exactly one month after the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 students and staff.