Six intrepid legal observers, lawyers Maureen Kane, Rebecca DeWitt, Gail Natale, Dianne Post and students Shannon O’Brien and Alexander Ponikvar, hung on from the beginning of the action at 3 p.m. to the end at 10:30 p.m. None of us expected it would be that long! The students were expressing their displeasure with the response of the governor and state legislature to their call for gun safety measures for schools. The governor flatly refused to meet with them to even discuss the matter but instead introduced an NRA approved bill that was even then subsequently watered down. They organized a die-in and vowed to stay until arrested or the the governor scheduled an appointment.
Some of the kids had marched to the capital from the 10 a.m. walk out so they had been there literally all day. The rally for about 500 people started at 3:30 and included a survivor from Parkland. The counter-protesters were on the sidewalk and loud, but the students wielded the used pizza boxes as shields to block their signs and moderate their voices.
Just after 4 p.m., the students lined up at either the Senate, House or went around the back to the Governor’s tower. Two legal observers were with each group. I was assigned to the Senate that had about 100 students who laid down on the floor in the lobby. DPS had blocked both sides so there was no access to elevators, water or most importantly bathrooms. The students were hemmed in between the counter and the door. The House had about 100 students too and the Governors tower 25.
The students were individually saying why they were there – some had personal stories of gun violence, one had a cousin killed in Sandy Hook, many said they were doing it for their younger sisters and brothers, and so they didn’t have to call their mom from under a desk to say good bye. At 5:09, an officer announced that the building was closed. Anyone could leave but no one could return. Things (car keys, phone chips) could go out but nothing could come in. About 5:45 p.m. the same officer returned and asked the kids to leave because they (the cops) had been there all day and would like to go home. No one responded nor moved. We were told that they would give three warnings and then arrest. So those not wanting to be arrested were leaving after the second warning. They started leaving in small groups.
But the cops never gave that third warning. They were under orders not to arrest any kids – that would be very bad optics in an election year. When the count got down to about 45 and it was 7 p.m., the kids sat up and started telling stories about why they were at the die-in. Those too were very personal about bullying they had experienced, about sexual harassment, about discrimination. Some said they had never talked about these things before. The others were very supportive.
Then the organizer switched to having them talk about a teacher who inspired them or changed their life especially in light of the teacher pay issue and the coming teacher strike. These were of course more uplifting stories. Just past 7:30 there was a mass tweet to Ducey about his refusal to meet with them when it was their young lives on the line. The organizers then decided to stay till 11 p.m., that then got changed to overnight, and then to 10 p.m., which was the ultimate decision.
After 8 p.m., the media had all left the Senate. Some media remained outside. At 9, the students talked about how they felt about the day and what they were going to do to change this situation. For most, it was voting, registering others to vote, and working on campaigns. By 9:40 when a safety plan was being organized for everyone, 32 students remained. At least two mother/daughter duos were among them, both of the mothers were teachers.
At 10, we linked arms to go out as a group in silence to illustrate the seriousness of this movement and the deaths of those students at Columbine, Parkland, Sandy Hook and so many other places. We exited through a phalanx of screaming and name calling and disbursed in our separate ways in small groups to our pre-planned destinations. The last time I heard such vile comments from such vicious people was as an escort for a Planned Parenthood medical center. I think they are the same people.
We were all inspired by the courage and bravery of the students and their calm under fire. Personally I’ve waited a long time for this generation of activists to come and I’m so very very glad they are here.