Like everyone else, Clare Schexnyder was appalled when there was yet another deadly school shooting, this one in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine's Day. But the Decatur, Georgia, mother couldn't just sit back and hope somebody else would do something.
"Nothing was happening. We were getting the same old pat talk of 'thoughts and prayers' and 'mental illness' from our politicians and same old wasn’t good enough," Schexnyder tells MNN. "It was just bone-chilling watching the videos of the SWAT teams going in, and I thought this has to stop, and if nobody is going to do something, I’m going to do something."
Schexnyder decided she wanted to organize a walkout in her local school system to call attention to the lives that had been lost and jumpstart a bigger conversation about gun control. An entrepreneur and former long-time CNN producer, Schexnyder knew she had the skills and the experience to bring people together and organize big events.
By 5 p.m. the day after the shootings, she had started a secret Facebook group for other parents in the school system. When she went to bed the day after the shooting, the group had 400 members; when she woke up, it had 2,500 and was growing by about 1,000 members every hour. People were asking to join from all over the country.
Friday afternoon, two days after the tragedy, Schexnyder had invited local parents to come to her house. Those who were in carpool line joined in by conference call. There were 1,000 people on the phone and 30 people crammed into her living room, including members of the local and national media. Her group had so many members, she had to kill it and start another one, so it could be open to the thousands of members who wanted to join, now from all over the country and various parts of the world.
The goal was to stage a 17-minute walkout in the local Decatur schools in honor of the 17 lives that were taken in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The group hoped to encourage students, teachers and administrators to walk out of schools that day in solidarity.
The original plan was to hold the walkout on March 2, but the group changed the date to align with events planned by Women’s March Youth EMPOWER, which announced a national school walkout at 10 a.m. on March 14, the one-month anniversary of the shootings.
But the goal is that it won't be only school buildings that empty on that day, Schexnyder says.
"We're organizing the first national coast-to-coast walkout for schools from anywhere and everywhere — from places of businesses, homes, places of worship. I envision church bells going off in observance and solidarity to change the gun laws in our country. We’ve reached a tipping point, and it’s going to change."
After the walkout, Schexnyder and her supporters are suggesting that demonstrators gather at noon at state capitols, city halls and other government buildings.
This grassroots effort is one of several being planned in the coming weeks. There is a March for Our Lives scheduled for March 24 in Washington, D.C., calling for gun control and school safety. A National High School Walkout on April 20 calls for students to leave school and peacefully protest on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting.
Keeping the conversation going
As of this writing, the Facebook group started by Schexnyder, National Stop School Shootings Now, has more than 18,000 members.
"It's fascinating to see who they are: professors, teachers, moms, gun owners, average Americans who don’t have kids, people who are just concerned," Schexnyder says. "Everyone is looking for something to do because we’ve felt so devastated for so long. I think there’s really momentum this time."
And so much of that credit goes to the student survivors of the Parkland shooting, as well as students all over the country, who have kept the conversation going, speaking to politicians and staying in the spotlight, fighting for stronger gun control laws.
"The shooter really chose the wrong high school," Schexnyder says. "These are some of the smartest, most articulate kids we have in the country, and they are pissed. They feel we have failed them. We have, but now we are here to support them."
While some administrators around the country have warned students they will face suspension if they protest or walk out, some colleges have voiced support. Notably, MIT's dean of admissions released a statement saying that disciplinary action "associated with meaningful, peaceful participation in a protest will not negatively impact their admissions decision, because we would not view it as inappropriate or lacking integrity."
Some schools are supporting students coming together to discuss the shootings or gun control for those 17 minutes on campus. Others have supported the walkouts. Empower has a link to see what schools are doing by location.
"We as adults can support our kids. Many of us who lived thru the '60s and Kent State know that students have had to stand up and lead the way and fight the good fight before," Schexnyder says. "We can remind them that students have stood up and led the way and we are committed to supporting them."