‘We want change’: North Liberty school students walk-out to protest school shootings and political inaction

North Liberty high school and middle school students protest gun violence in schools at the corner of Forevergreen Rd and Highway 965. Friday, March 2, 2018. — photo by Zak Neumann

One of the busiest intersections in North Liberty became the site of a loud, determined protest on Friday afternoon. Students from North Central Junior High School and Liberty High School walked out of class at 2 p.m., and gathered at the corner of Forevergreen Rd. and Hwy 965 to protest gun violence and the lack of political action following recent school shootings. They were joined by some students from Iowa City West High and City High, who drove to North Liberty to show support for the protesters.

When the final students arrived after the hour-long walk from Liberty High, the crowd numbered more than 100. As some students took turns addressing the protesters with a megaphone, others chanted slogans — including “Say ‘no way’ to the NRA!” and “How many lives is too many lives?” — to passing motorists.

Like the walk-out and protest by Iowa City school students last week, the idea for the North Liberty protest came from junior high school students.

“We were inspired by what City [High School] and South East [Junior High School] did,” Posey Belle Stoeffler, an eighth grade student at North Central, told Little Village.

Stoeffler, along with about a half dozen other North Central eighth-graders, organized the walk-out and protest.

“We talked to our counselor first, and he said we should talk to the administration,” Raina Pfeifer, another one of the organizers, said. It was during their meeting with the principal and vice principal, both of whom supported the students’ plan for a protest, that the idea of reaching out to Liberty High students came up.

Students fill out postcards to be sent to elected officals on the Hills Bank property in North Liberty. Friday, March 2, 2018. — photo by Zak Neumann

As Pfeiffer is explaining how they began reaching out directly and on social media to other students, one of those students taps her on the shoulder.

“How do you spell ‘bribery’?” the student asks Raina.

The student is filling out a postcard to U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, asking the Iowa senator to support gun control. Armed with the correct spelling, she returns to the Hills Bank sign that students are using as a makeshift desk to write postcards.

The pre-addressed, postage-paid postcards have been provided for the students to tell political leaders to take action on gun control.

“We are writing to our senators, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, the president and our congressman, Dave Loebsack,” Trista Spies, another organizer, said.

“We want change, and we want to show our senators and others that we mean business,” Pfeiffer added.

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“We’re really happy with the turnout,” Spies said. “This is way more people than we thought would come.”

The North Liberty walk-out was the third major protest in two weeks in area schools over mass shootings and lack of political action.

Last week, students at Washington High School in Cedar Rapids staged a walk-out and a 17-minute protest to commemorate the 17 people who died in the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

“I would have been okay with it, if it was just our group that organized things who came out,” Spies said, looking around at the 100-plus students, as drivers on Forevergreen Rd. waved and honked in support. “But this is so much better.”

North Liberty high school and middle school students protest gun violence in schools at the corner of Forevergreen Rd and Highway 965. Friday, March 2, 2018. — photo by Zak Neumann