“I was only 10 when it happened,” says Lane Murdock, a 15-year-old Year 10 student from Ridgefield, Connecticut. Her high school – suddenly ground zero for a national youth movement combating school gun violence – lies only 20 minutes south of Sandy Hook Elementary School. It was there, less than six years ago, that 20 children were gunned down, none more than seven years old.
People visit a makeshift memorial setup in front of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. (Photo: Getty)
“When you’re that young, you know that something bad has happened, but don’t really know what,” Murdock says, her voice turned dour. She considers herself lucky. “I know friends who lost people just because of how close the towns are,” she said. “I know people who had family members lost – but not me.”
When news broke on Valentine’s Day that 17 people had been fatally shot at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Murdock says she was hardly shocked. “It’s our new normal. It didn’t feel surprising,” she said. “And that’s not OK.”
Murdock keeps up with the news to stay informed, but until last week she had never gotten involved in any activism. Now, she’s the lead organiser of a national anti-gun-violence campaign – one run exclusively by high school students. The Twitter account she launched five days ago, @schoolwalkoutUS, has over 100,000 followers, and as of writing, over 126,000 people and counting have signed her petition calling for a national high school walkout on April 20 – a date she picked because it’s the anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre, during which gunmen killed 12 students.
On Friday, April 20th we want students to attend school and then promptly WALK-OUT at 10:00 am. Sit outside your schools and peacefully protest. Make some noise. Voice your thoughts. "We are students, we are victims, we are change."
— National School Walkout (@schoolwalkoutUS) February 17, 2018
“That was in 1999 and nothing has changed,” she tells Gizmodo, referring to the tragedy at Columbine. “They’re going into our schools and into our classrooms. So I thought it was time for us to have a voice and a platform.”
With no prior experience and without the aid of her parents or teachers, Murdock is slowly forming her organisation. It began with a fellow Year 10 student at her school and now includes a senior there. She’s also allied her movement with two other youth groups planning demonstrations next month: Under the hashtag #Enough, Women’s March Youth is staging a 17-minute walkout – the number of fallen in Parkland – on March 14. And a group called March For Our Lives, whose organisers include students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas, is organising a Saturday march just 10 days later, on March 24, in Washington, DC.
The groups are forming a kind of coalition, Murdock said, but they’re currently keeping their groups separate, supporting one another and offering what tools they have to help elevate one another. There’s also been discussion of registering students to vote. “We want to make sure, especially for the seniors who’ll be able to vote soon, that they have access to [register] on April 20,” she said.
Proud to work with @WomensMarchY and @AMarch4OurLives, as we look forward to advancing our mutual goal of ensuring a safer future for young Americans. #NationalSchoolWalkout is a grassroots movement for students, by students. pic.twitter.com/3ZWJsVMBXV
— National School Walkout (@schoolwalkoutUS) February 19, 2018
But the vote isn’t her top priority – at least not right now. Less than a week in and with the burden of steering an online movement, which is sprawling briskly beyond her imagining, Murdock’s chief objective is ensuring that the collective voices of her fellow students are represented, equitably.
Murdock, who tells Gizmodo she wants to be a journalist when she gets older, is adamant: This isn’t about pushing her ideology on anyone. “I want to work with students and talk about their concerns and their needs,” she said. “This isn’t about giving me representation; it’s about giving them representation.”
— Lane Murdock (@lanemurdock2002) February 20, 2018
It’s also important to her that everyone know the demonstration she dreamt up isn’t the work of adults, but students alone. “This is for students by students,” she said. “As a 15-year-old, a lot of people don’t expect that I could just do this on my own. But no one’s telling us to do this.”
Asked if teachers are allowed to join the walkout, Murdock said they’re encouraging students at other schools to engage with teachers and school administrators. “We want this to be a peaceful protest,” she said, “and we want people to work together.”
On Tuesday, scores of students from a Florida high school just kilometres from the site of last week’s massacre walked out of class, marching to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. They marched against violence in America’s schools. They marched to push for new gun laws. They marched to remember those who were killed and in solidarity with those who survived.