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In Washington, D.C., Students Mark National School Walkout With March To Capitol


Today, thousands are walking out of their classrooms to protest violence in schools. This is the third national student-led demonstration since the shooting that killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Now, scheduling this for today was not a random choice. This is also the 19th anniversary of the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado. And today, students will honor the 13 who died there with moments of silence.

NPR's Brakkton Booker joins us now. He is in Washington, D.C., just outside the White House, where local students have gathered rather than be in class. Hey, Brakkton.

BRAKKTON BOOKER, BYLINE: Hey. How's it going, Dave?

GREENE: It's going well. So we should say you're in Lafayette Square, which is just outside the gates of the White House. What's the scene there?

BOOKER: Well, we just wrapped up the 19 minutes of the moment of silence marking the deaths of those lives lost in Columbine 19 years ago today. This is one of the 2,600 registered events taking place in the National School Walkout today. As we said, there were 13 people killed here. And a lot of these students who are here were not even born yet when the Columbine shooting took place. I just spoke to one organizer. Her name is Laura Kirk (ph). She works for Students Demand Action, and she's a 17-year-old student from West Springfield High School in Virginia. Here's what she told me.

LAURA KIRK: I have never known a world where mass shootings aren't a problem in our country. I mean, before I was learning how to read and write in school, I was learning how to, you know, do lockdown drills and sit silent in the dark so that shooters wouldn't see us. And it's kind of ingrained into who we are as a nation and as a generation.

BOOKER: So, David, that just gives you a taste of what a lot of these marchers are saying. And they're going to be making their voices heard today in protests all across the country, including here in Washington, D.C.

GREENE: Wow. Yeah, her voice just says it all about the world she's growing up in. So tell us more about how these events came together in one city at least, Washington, D.C., today.

BOOKER: Well, yeah. So the event here in Washington kind of came together because organizers were saying enough is enough. Now, in other places, students are walking out of class and staying out of class. Here, as you alluded to, students skipped class altogether and just came directly to Lafayette Square. So organizers are saying enough is enough - 19 years since the Columbine shooting, there could have been time for lawmakers to change laws and enact some stronger gun laws but they haven't. So if you don't make these changes before November, we're going to vote you out.

So this protest actually had to get permits from three different law enforcement agencies. So they are going to be marching away from Lafayette Park, which is about to start just in a couple of minutes here, walk down Pennsylvania Avenue and end at the U.S. Capitol, where there are going to be speeches and people giving testimony about their brushes with gun violence and how gun violence has impacted them.

GREENE: And, of course, not the first time, even recently, that we have heard some of these powerful speeches that I'm sure we'll be hearing at the Capitol. You know, there was the walkout last month. There was the big March for Our Lives. After Parkland, I mean, those students in Florida, they were demanding change. You say this phrase enough is enough. Are there signs that these movements are having an impact?

BOOKER: Well, there are signs, especially on the state level. I mean, you look at Florida, where students, particularly the Parkland students, had an impact in changing laws there. We've seen gun laws changed in Vermont. But we haven't seen as much change on the federal level. And that's kind of what students taking part in this protest are trying to say. And that's why they're taking it to Capitol Hill to say, hey, there needs to be changes on the federal level, too.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Brakkton Booker covering the National School Walkout just outside the White House. Brakkton, thanks.

BOOKER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
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