Two days after organizing a walkout at Astoria High School against gun violence, freshman Elias Harold sat in English class. He had already shifted his attention to a school choir concert where he was tapped to sing a solo.
But a text he received changed that.
“So, would you want to go to D.C.?” Suzanne Harold, his mother, asked.
Motivated by the mass shooting that killed 17 people at a Florida high school in February, many middle and high school students have pressed for gun control in a movement referred to as “Never Again.” The latest demonstration will come on Saturday in the March for Our Lives, a national protest in Washington, D.C., with companion rallies across the country, including one in Astoria.
After last week’s school walkout, a local anonymous donor handed Astoria High School Principal Lynn Jackson $1,000 in the hopes it would fund a student’s trip to the nation’s capital. Jackson gauged the Harold family’s interest.
The mother and son decided to drive to Seattle right after the concert, stay in a hotel and fly out Friday.
“It was a little bit of a scramble a week in advance,” Suzanne Harold said. “I’m excited and overwhelmed. It was kind of like I had drunk too much coffee.”
Elias Harold said he hopes to make connections this weekend with other teenagers.
“If I manage to get any contact numbers or things like that, then I could see what their side of the country is doing. Knowing other people around the world and just, sort of, knowing what their life is like versus mine is always nice,” he said. “I think the main end goal is definitely getting gun control.”
The Harolds’ will march alongside survivors of the Florida high school shooting.
One of those survivors, senior Emma Gonzalez, has become the face of Never Again. She entered the national spotlight after a fiery televised rally speech following the shooting and through her active social media presence. She played a leading role in organizing the national march.
Her personal appeal among those who support the cause can be seen in Astoria, as well.
Alea Bone, a Portland artist, painted a portrait of Gonzalez for “Fierce,” an exhibit at RiverSea Gallery. The exhibit, which runs through April 8, is intended to showcase female empowerment during Women’s History Month.
Bone’s acrylic-on-wood portrait — titled “Brave One” — depicts Gonzalez staring forward intently. She said the 63 bottle caps that surround her represent school shootings that have taken place in the U.S. since 20 children were shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012.
Bone, a parent of a high schooler, has often incorporated gun violence into her artwork.
“Every time something happens, I feel like I need to respond in some way. I was so inspired by her, and the first thing that came to mind is she’s fierce,” Bone said.
The portrait also includes a halo surrounding Gonzalez’s head.
“I wanted to illuminate her, like the spotlight is on her right now,” Bone said. “She’s like an angel. A lot of people are looking to her image as a symbol of this new, political rising at the schools, and it’s amazing.”
As she began to promote the painting in February, a high school friend told Bone that her husband knew Gonzalez’s father.
“I was like, ‘Whoa, what are the chances?’” she said. “It’s crazy how small the world is sometimes.”
Not everyone buys into the Never Again message.
Jim Hoffman, chairman of the Clatsop County Republican Central Committee, said he opposes gun control measures and believes they would be ineffective. Instead, he pointed to other solutions, such as having an armed resource officer at every school.
“We’ve got to do something. We all agree,” Hoffman said. “I would actually support something that would stop it.”
He noted that most high school students — including those in Astoria — did not participate in the walkouts.
“I think, for the most part, a parent or teacher has put this in their head. I don’t think they did this on their own,” Hoffman said. “Absolutely they should want change, but they should become educated on the issue. They should get more than just one side of this.”
Elias and Suzanne Harold met with Indivisible North Coast Oregon — the local chapter of a nationwide progressive activist organization — ahead of the walkout last week. The Harolds’ called gun violence an “epidemic” that has been addressed by other developed countries through gun control.
“I had to figure out what sort of thing would catch people’s eyes and how to phrase most things,” Elias Harold said of his role in the walkout. “We were trying to keep it away from anti-gun and focus more on, just, saving student lives. But part of that is by having some amount of gun control.”
Suzanne Harold recalled the safety drills she led when she worked at Warrenton Grade School.
“That hits home to me, when you’re trying to coach 8-year-olds to be silent for 10 minutes to avoid a tragedy,” she said. “Shame on us for making them have to be the ones to stand up.”
The rally in Astoria on Saturday will be held on Eighth and Commercial streets from noon to 1:30 p.m. Indivisible North Coast Oregon will host the event along with local students.
When the march and rallies end, it is unclear where the national conversation on guns will turn.
“Quite frankly, I don’t think it’ll have a whole lot of effect,” Hoffman said. “I think it’ll have some, but not a whole lot.”
Elias Harold said he hopes the connections made at the national march — his first involvement in a large-scale demonstration — will help legitimize student opinions on gun violence.
“As a kid, it is harder to, sort of, be respected sometimes and for our opinions to be heard,” he said. “So I think, for how many of us are bunching together, to have our voices heard, to be a little more respected and when we need to make a stand, for other people to understand where we’re coming from and to listen to us.”