‘Existing in a world of violence since we were born’: Denver students walk out in protest

Sixteen-year-old Emma Friday walked out because she’s “sick of the violence.”

Fiona Harris, 15, walked out because, she said, “everyone deserves an education. The fact that kids are scared to go to school, there are so many things wrong with that.”

Seamus Klingspor, 14, walked out because “any one of those 17 lives could have been us.”

Those three were among hundreds of Denver students who walked out of their schools Wednesday morning. Students from East High School, Denver School of the Arts, and others converged on the state Capitol steps to chant in protest of gun violence. The walkouts were part of a national action in the wake of last month’s school shooting in Florida that left 17 dead.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, came out to briefly address the crowd.

“You look pretty fired up,” he said into a megaphone. “A big part is just the fact you took the initiative to come out here and show up. It’s a big part, but it’s not the only part.

“The thing you’ve got to remember is if you’re really going to succeed – and I have a feeling you might – you’ve got to get involved with getting people elected,” Hickenlooper told the students. “You’ve got to make sure your voices get heard all the time.”

Students began pouring out of East High School at 10 a.m. to meet others who’d walked over from Denver School of the Arts. Some were holding hand lettered signs: “Protect Kids, Not Guns,” one said. “Keep Your Guns Out of My School.” “Am I Next?”

East High students had prepared a program. As the crowd stood reverently in front of the tall brick school building, squinting in the sun, the students spoke about Columbine, noting that most of them weren’t alive yet when that tragedy “devastated our community.”

“We’ve been existing in a world of violence since we were born,” one student said.

A group sang haunting renditions of songs including Stevie Wonder’s “Heaven Help us All.” They recited the names of the 17 victims of the Florida shooting, noting their passions and, most poignantly, their ages: “Jaime Guttenberg. Jaime was a passionate dancer. … Her father described her as vocal, passionate, and energetic. Jaime Guttenberg was 14 years old.”

Police escorted the students down East 16th Avenue toward the state Capitol. On the way there, students sporadically broke out into chants. “Enough is enough!” they shouted as pedestrians took cell phone videos, drivers honked, and construction workers paused to watch.

The chanting continued at the state Capitol.

“What do we want? Change!” they chanted. “When do we want it? Now!”

Shortly after Hickenlooper spoke, the students began heading back to their schools, some on yellow buses. They were done for the day, but several said they weren’t done for good.

“People think students don’t have a voice or a place in politics,” said Friday, who was holding a sign that said, “I’m Missing a Day of School Because 17 are Missing the Rest of Their Lives.”

“But we definitely do.”