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March 15 2018

Q&A with 11-year-old march organizers in Alexandria, Virginia

The Guardian
featuring Julie Gunlock

In Alexandria, Virginia, a wealthy, liberal suburb of Washington DC, more than 60 students walked out of George Mason Elementary School. Two 11-year-olds, Naomi Wadler and Carter Anderson, had organized the protest.

“Just the sensation that we are going to make a difference makes me feel proud,” Henry Gibbs, 10, said early Wednesday morning, before participating in the walkout.

The students, led by the youngest who were about six and seven years old, formed a line in the front of the school. They stayed quiet as they held up signs with the names of Parkland victims, as well as Courtlin Arrington, a 17-year-old shot to death at school in Birmingham, Alabama.

Dozens of parents stood on the sidewalk taking photographs of the protesting students, but no one spoke. Some students visibly shivered as they held up their signs. The only sound was birds tweeting and the cardboard of the protest signs snapping in the wind.

After a few minutes, the line of students collapsed to the ground.

Doris Maultsby said when she watched her two children, 10 and 7, fall to the ground, she thought of all the other parents who lost their children to senseless gun violence.

“Their composure, they’re ten and 11 year olds, was beyond anything I would expect or want them to have to be experiencing at this age,” said Sherry Reilly, who had two sons participate in the walkout. “But it is their reality, and we cannot insulate them from it.”

At least one parent in the school’s district did not support the protests. 

Julie Gunlock, a conservative parent at George Mason, said she kept her three elementary school kids at home today, concerned about the disruption to the school’s learning environment, and that the protest might make her son feel “pressured” or “intimated.”

“I didn’t want him to be put in an uncomfortable situation,” she said, noting that he had not felt any pressure from other students in the weeks leading up to the protest.

Instead, she said she taught her kids at home about the Second Amendment, and also about gun safety.

Gunlock, a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum, a conservative think tank, said she thought that many parents and students nationwide may have seen the National Walkout simply as a memorial to the Parkland students, rather than an explicit endorsement of passing “harsher gun restrictions.” 

“I’m all for walking out to memorialize the 17 victims,” she said. “If that were the mission, the true mission, for the national walkout, I wouldn’t have objected to my kids being approached by that.”

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