PORTAGE, Mich. (WOOD) — Schools across the nation, including in the Kalamazoo area, participated in National Walkout Day to demonstrate against recent gun violence and mass shootings.
At Portage Northern High School, more than 200 students walked out of class Wednesday despite heavy rainfall and strong thunderstorms nearby.
“I was expecting that we wouldn’t have a lot of students. I was OK with that,” said junior Simon Thompson, who organized the walkout. “As long as we had anyone going out there, I thought that we would be able to make our voices heard. But the amount of students, I think, is very telling of how many of us want change.”
Thompson was concerned the weather would cancel the walkout.
“I was in contact with the person who organized it at Portage Central. We were both sitting in our classrooms, just constantly refreshing the radar, watching,” Thompson said. “We were looking at the red and were like, ‘It’s a couple miles north of us; I think we’re going to be OK.'”
Instead, the students shortened the walkout route.
“We were supposed to go around an entire block, but seeing as where we were supposed to end was in the middle of the field, we were just a little bit worried,” Thompson explained. “We wanted to keep everyone safe. Our goal is not to create any harm.”
Portage Central and Kalamazoo students also held walkouts.
The national day came almost two months after around a dozen Michigan schools, including Portage Northern, were the target of fake shooting calls, forcing lockdowns. Thompson said that was enough.
“It’s troublesome to be sitting in our classrooms, watching as cops have to clear out our halls of a potential threat in a place that should be our second home,” Thompson said. “We’ve gotten a few threats over the past few years. Our students are sick and tired of the legislators not doing anything as we continue to plea for help and still no action’s taken.”
He said changes through gun reform can only happen at the top in Washington and Lansing. While they are not old enough to cast their ballots yet, he believes it is still important for students his age to get involved.
“It’s telling our students to get in touch with their parents, their family, make sure that their voices are heard,” he explained. “Because we may not be able to vote but we have people that we can get in contact with.”
In a statement, a Portage Public Schools spokesperson said the walkout was student-organized and -led.
“(We) recognize our students’ constitutional rights to have their voices heard on issues that are important to them,” the statement read. “Today was an example of our students peacefully exercising those rights.”
Thompson hoped the walkout sends a clear message to lawmakers.
“We’re not done,” he said. “I think it’s continuing to make change by going out, doing more walkouts… contacting your legislators and letting them know that we’re tired of this.”
Thompson told News 8 nothing else is planned yet but also that they are not going to stop until they see change.