Structured Protests


Beau Toepfer

Peter de Wetter led the walkout for gun violence and continues to advocate for gun control and prevention.

So far in 2023, 85 people have been killed or injured in school shootings, and threats have been called into schools across Colorado in a mass attack, including to schools in the valley. When student-led protests against gun violence are organized attendance is low enough that the protest often falls through.

Peter de Wetter, an AHS senior and head boy, tried to organize a walkout on National Walkout Day on April 5. Lack of attendance caused the protest to fall through, and the protest was rescheduled for Monday, April 17. de Wetter held a provocative speech to a group of approximately 40 students and 15 teachers and staff gathered on the beach, but despite the time allocated and the prevalence of the issue, the crowd was small. The speech was rousing and filled with emotion; the small group of students clapped vigorously after he finished, then immediately returned to class. The plan of a “walk-out” did not yield strong results, and ended in a speech just outside the doors of the school. Sarah Straussburger corralled the school trying to get people outside.

“Either be outside or in your SET class. You can’t hang out in the halls or commons,” Strassburger said to students coming from class.

The structure of the protest devalued the meaning. Students were given one option to protest their administration, defeating the idea of a protest for student safety, by students. And by doing this walkout during SET time, it was not conveying the same message as walking out of class for a protest, that students do not feel comfortable in their current environment. SET time is not instructional in the sense that classes are, so students aren’t jeopardizing their education.

“The second one, thanks to the help of Sarah with her school-wide email, we were able to get a lot more people’s attention,” de Wetter said. ”And again, it’s an interesting concept of not walking out during a class period because the fact is supposed to be that you’re leaving school.”

Although no school in the valley has experienced an active shooter, Aspen students have yet to be subjected to the ‘American Tragedy.’ With successful gun control in other countries and the ability of countries like Australia to entirely curb gun violence on shootings, it is a wonder why America can’t do the same. A sense of almost invincibility permeates Aspenites’ minds; the wealth and relative isolation of Aspen from the regular public school system makes AHS seem like a bubble without a chance of a school shooting. While the threats called in earlier this year were all hoaxes, people were still scared and affected by the proximity of the danger.

“Ultimately, it seems like when there’s a direct effect on a certain population or community, then there’s more of a reaction to do something,” de Wetter said, “And I think because it was just a hoax, and we’re in the community that a lot of students didn’t really feel the true impact that it has on other places with school shootings … I think it’s hard in this community because it’s definitely a bubble as it’s constantly referred to, as in that people just don’t see the see how these events are happening elsewhere and in other places as well.”

So, why was attendance at both walkouts so low as they still gave students a chance to stand up for their peers? Attendance at school for the initial student-led walkout was already low, contributing to the small turnout. However, speaking from experience, the second walkout was held at a time when students would not actually miss any school or be given a chance to avoid anything, given that it took place during SET. SET time is used as a time for students to do work that truly benefits them directly. The immediate benefits of SET time are easy to identify, and less instant gratification is given for attending class. People like to get out of things they don’t want to attend, and when students may have trouble understanding the significance of gun violence in this community, there is not as much ‘pull’ of going to a protest.

The most troubling part is that our lives are placed in danger by living in this country while there is little action being done to solve the systemic and deadly issues that affect us. Students need to stand up for themselves and show our government and local leaders that we, as children, are not safe in what is supposed to be a safe environment. Children saying they feel unsafe or uncomfortable at school will have a more profound impact on governments than parent responses will. Stand up for yourself and let the world hear your voice! Every voice has the potential to make a difference.