For many students in the Berkshires, the National School Walkout wasn't the end of gun violence demonstrations after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla.. Now, they prepare to travel to Washington to participate in March For Our Lives on Saturday.
"There's often just a reaction of `Oh, thoughts and prayers,' and then we abandon the victims," said Luke Lamond, a junior at Berkshire Waldorf High School.
"This movement by the [Stoneman Douglas] kids is great, because they're calling that tradition the way it is, which is B.S. They've broken the cycle, and it seems like they aren't taking `no' for an answer. They are motivated in the wake of this tragedy, and that's impressive and inspiring, especially considering they are high school kids like me."
Lamond plans to travel to the District of Columbia for the protest, along with more students from the Waldorf school. Together with more than 100 other students, primarily from Mount Everett and Monument Mountain high schools, the group is taking buses chartered by the Railroad Street Youth Project, a local nonprofit, to the March For Our Lives. The D.C. event is one of many taking place all over the U.S., but it promises to be one of the largest, with organizers expecting up to 500,000 attendees.
According to Mason Amann, one of the organizers at RSYP, the idea to travel to the march started simply.
"One of our directors, Chris Tucci, was hoping to attend with his family, and as he made plans, the idea spread by word-of-mouth. Soon, many involved with RSYP were interested," he said.
An anonymous donor contributed enough money to afford two sleeper buses, seating 56 students each, and another donated enough for food.
"There is a strong streak of activism in youth who participate in YOB," Amann said, "so, of course they jumped at the opportunity."
YOB, or Youth Organizational Board, is a fixture of the Railroad Street Youth Project that serves as a way to discuss and improve the community and find other young people with like-minded interests. Meetings are every Tuesday, with one objective being how to distribute an annual $10,000 grant among participants.
The two RSYP buses seat a total of 112 students between them, and as of Monday afternoon, all but four seats had been filled. Amann guessed that it wouldn't be long before the remainder were occupied.
The buses will leave late Friday night, make the long drive to Washington in time for the march to start, and are scheduled to return late Saturday or early Sunday morning.
Mount Everett senior Lily Duval, who also is closely involved with the Youth Organizational Board, said: "I feel awful about everything that is happening, and I hate how our society frames everything in regards to shootings. We're desensitized. We just kind of move on after one occurs. I saw a headline the other day about a dog who died on an airline, and a day later a senator tweeted about his motivation to change the laws surrounding pets and airlines, because `pets are family.' Aren't kids part of the family, too? Aren't they more important than pets? More important than guns?"
Duval participated in Mount Everett's school walkout but feels it wasn't enough. Like Lamond, she said she signs petitions and tries to discuss pressing issues of gun control, legislation and the importance of active citizenship with peers and family members. One of her biggest priorities?
"I can't wait to turn 18, so I can register to vote."
Like many other local teenagers involved in March For Our Lives, she sees voting as possibly the most direct course of action.
Monument Mountain senior Stella Bellow agrees.
"I think this group of kids in high school who are going into the voting pool will truly have an impact. Because of them, I believe events such as these school shootings will become more rare," she said.
Students are learning from their experiences with activism, too.
"As a student and as a teenager in this generation, I feel it is super important to not only learn to advocate for yourself, but also to advocate for others. And that is what the school walkouts are about," said Bethany Kerzner, a sophomore at Mount Everett.
Kerzner went on to address what she sees as one of the misconceptions about such a student-led movement: "We are not just being rebellious because we are teenagers, but because we are teens learning to distinguish what is humane and what we feel that means."
Speaking of the movement, she said, "I want to be a part of it. I don't think I'd feel true to myself if I turned my back knowing that kids my age are dying. It doesn't have to happen to you for you to participate in standing in the snow for 17 minutes, because it wasn't just standing outside, it was standing up. Making that clear is important; don't just say `I think this is wrong' and not take action."
At RSYP, final preparations are being made for the trip. Amann, one of the organizers, explains that after the usual YOB meeting Tuesday, there was a sign-making workshop so students have another way of communicating and representing at the march. This isn't the first time RSYP has supported student activism, he explains. The current iteration of RSYP activism began with president Donald Trump's inauguration more than a year ago, and has been going strong since.
After the March, RSYP will be inviting all participants who rode the buses to Washington to the Tuesday YOB meeting for an open-ended discussion on the protest, what the reaction is, and how to move forward with related events and activism. It might end up being one of the largest YOB meetings ever, Amann thinks.
"Enough is obviously enough. This is kind of the final straw. That's what I'm taking away from all of this."
Lamond, the junior from the Waldorf school, summed up much of the feeling toward the protests and the increased political involvement of students after the shootings.
"I feel as if it's helping me grow as a person, to be involved in all of this. It's a good attitude to approach life with the thought that I can make a difference. It's right there in the First Amendment: All of us are petitioning the government for a redress of grievances. We're showing them we care, essentially. It's a powerful sentiment, one which is unlikely to go unnoticed."
Daniel Papscun is a correspondent for The Berkshire Eagle and a student at Berkshire Waldorf High School.