Students in Vermont’s largest city walked out of school Wednesday, joining peers from around the country in a day of activism for gun reform.
Burlington High School students held a moment of silence for victims of the Parkland, Florida shooting massacre and other victims of gun violence.
"Yes, Burlington is very safe and Vermont is a very safe place, but I’m pretty sure students in Parkland thought it was a very safe school as well, and that it would never happen to them," said Zanevia Wilcox, a Burlington High School sophomore.
The students who briefly walked out of school then called on elected officials to do more to protect them and other community members from gun violence, through changes like limits on who can possess firearms, and more stringent background checks.
"I’ve been passionate about a lot of different issues in my lifetime, but I think right now, we’re having the most momentum I’ve ever seen with any issue," said Burlington senior Allie Brown.
"We are the ones making the change, because we haven’t seen any adults making it," said Amanda Tran, another Burlington High School senior.
Vermont’s Republican governor, Phil Scott, has voiced support for reforms: a stance he admits has been deeply unpopular with many gun rights supporters.
"I have many, many friends and supporters who are disappointed with what I've moved forward with, but I have a deep responsibility to take care of issues I see that affect the state in terms of public safety," Gov. Scott said last week.
The school district wants the walkout participants to make up lost class time, according to a spokesman, but Burlington’s superintendent was impressed by the display.
"I hope people across the nation are hearing the voices of students rising up," Yaw Obeng told necn.
The Burlington students' voices drew praise on the floor of the U.S. Senate Wednesday.
The nation’s longest-serving senator, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, said in a speech he was very proud of the students, and told his colleagues the kids’ voices must be heard.
"I ask, 'Does Congress have the courage to do something?'" Sen. Leahy said. "That’s the question they’re asking. And if we can’t answer it positively, then we in Congress have failed these students."
Leahy also took part in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday on the Parkland tragedy and ways to curb mass shootings.
There were similar walkouts planned across Vermont that did not happen Wednesday because many schools canceled due to the snow. A handful of student organizers in such communities have said their demonstrations will be rescheduled.