‘Democracy at its finest’

Student walkout draws attention from social-minded residents

POULSBO — Students at North Kitsap High School walked out of class on Wednesday March 14, in solidarity with a nationwide protest of gun violence.

North Kitsap High School did not open its doors to non-students during the walkout but this didn’t stop supporters from gathering off school grounds on a nearby sidewalk to cheer on the students as they began taking seats at the high school’s stadium.

Maria Fergus was one of the adults standing beside students, albeit a distance from them and separated by the football field’s chain-link fence. Fergus said her daughter Sara attends high school part time as a Running Start student. Her daughter, Fergus said, is very active in social movements and thought she might be one of the individuals in the crowd; she couldn’t be sure, thanks to Sara’s numerous academic responsibilities.

“Sometimes [students] wake up and they’re empowered and other days they’re not sure where they’re standing and they have to kind of balance that between what they feel are adult expectations and their responsibility versus their social responsibility,” Fergus said. “To be at that age and have to balance that, that’s a lot to balance these days. That’s not something we expected our kids to have to do.”

Fergus said her family has a history of involvement with social upheaval and whether her daughter was in the crowd or not, she wanted to be present to support the students during the walkout.

“I’m an immigrant, my mother marched with Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, so it’s in my blood to be active, to stand up for social injustice,” she said. “My mother taught us not to be afraid, and I’m trying to teach my kids not to be afraid.”

Fergus wasn’t alone on the other side of the fence though, a small crowd had gathered and among them were retired teachers Molly Radke and Thad McManus. Radke carried a sign which read “we support our students.”

Beside the teachers stood John Willett, a retired builder whose daughter attends North Kitsap High School. The demonstration Willett said, brought him back to his days protesting the Vietnam War.

“I just love this, I was a protester back in the 60’s,” Willett said. “It’s just great to see the kids again taking charge and moving the discussion, it’s just great. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”

The funny thing is that we heard from our elders at the time, ‘Kids, it’s going to take three generations for change … I’m figuring this is the third generation here, it’s all hopefully going to come together here.”

As some students took turns speaking to the crowd of demonstrators, the distance between the stadium and the onlookers on the sidewalk ensured that what was being said could only heard by those in the stands; but every so often the stands would erupt into cheers and applause for those who addressed the group and these cheers appeared to be enough to keep hope afloat among those standing outside the fence.

“This is democracy at its finest,” Willett said.

—Nick Twietmeyer is a reporter with Kitsap News Group. Nick can be reached at ntwietmeyer@soundpublishing.com.