At 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, while the wind made the temperature feel much lower than 39 degrees, about 50 people stood across the street from Montclair High School to cheer on students as they took part in a nationally organized walkout to protest gun violence.
Then the students began to pour out of the doors.
As students exited their buildings, the onlookers cheered. "The freshmen are coming," said an onlooker, as students poured out of the George Innes Annex across the street from the high school. There were too many to fit in the amphitheater: they stood on the steps. They stood on the sidewalk.
The school grounds were a sea of orange -- the color of the walkout -- and signs. "Say their Names." "Thoughts and Prayers are Not Enough."
Walkouts took place in schools across the country today, exactly one month after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 people dead. In Montclair, students also walked out of Renaissance Middle School, Glenfield Middle School, and Buzz Aldrin Middle School.
Dan Barenholtz, a Montclair High School graduate who described himself as an activist, said that he was there to cheer on the students because he is "up in arms, pun intended, about what's going on in the world with this problem. So many people are killed and nothing is being done."
Ari Westreich, MHS senior class president of the Civics & Government Institute, said that when he walked out and saw the adults across the street cheering, holding posters, "it was really eye-opening. Seeing so many people was uplifting."
Westreich estimated that most of the school walked out, about 1,500 people. As he walked out, he saw a sign reading "Are we next?" That was really scary, he said. And he heard students around him saying that with all of them out there together, they would make a good target, which was also scary.
What happened in Parkland was "kind of a wake up call." Though he's angry, he also feels sorrow: when Senior Class President Blythe Raine Bahramipour and senior Corinna Davis read the names of the dead, it was good to "remember these people and what their families have gone through."
'ONLY ONE STUDENT DIDN'T WALK OUT'
Anjel Fierst, 12, organized the walkout at Renaissance Middle School. Of the 300 students in the school, Fierst said, about 250 walked out. In her seventh grade class, only one student stayed inside. There was a single classroom designated for students who didn't want to participate.
Fierst decided to organize the walkout after she heard about the nationwide walkouts planned on the news. The principal and teachers were supportive, she said, but Interim Superintendent Barbara Pinsak was not.
On Feb. 22, Pinsak sent a letter to Montclair families, caregivers and staff, letting them know that the school would not endorse the march, out of concern for student safety. Fierst found her concern ironic, since safety is "the point of the whole movement."
Renaissance designated an area on school grounds for the walkout. It was safe but not visible: Fierst, like some students at Glenfield Middle School, decided to walk out the front door anyway. She and friends made signs; they are going to make a wall of them at her school.
While it will be a few years before the 12-year-old can vote, she explained the importance of drawing attention to these issues. When she began organizing among her classmates, the most common question she was asked was "What is the N.R.A.?"
Shortly after the shooting, Fierst was talking to a friend about what had happened in Parkland, and what they would do if something like that happened in Montclair.
"It scared me that two 12-year-olds are deciding what to do if an active shooter came into the gym.
"With the other shootings, the children haven't been able to speak as much.
"It's a part of our culture now."
'THE FIGHT ISN'T GOING TO END'
Sophomore Hana Ackelsberg, one of the 13 speakers at the rally and one of the organizers of the event, stopped to talk on her way back to class. She wore orange, and carried flowers to put at a memorial for the murdered students.
"The fight isn't going to end after the walkout," Acklesberg said. "The fight isn't going to end when we take it to Washington. As students, we have a collective power. There's power in numbers." In her speech, she told the crowd, "We're the future of this country. Remember that, and don't let those in power forget it."
Sophomore Daphne Hansell, who also spoke at the walkout, said in an interview, "It’s possible to make change. Time and time again large groups of people demanding peace have gotten results. It might seem hopeless, our struggle, but look around.
"We want to feel safe in school. We want to learn. I want to spend my time writing essays about 'Macbeth,' not talking about what we would do if there was a shooting in my English classroom."
Senior Corinna Davis, of Students Demand Action has already write a reflection piece on the walkout for Grok Nation, an online community founded by Mayim Bialik. She helped organize this walkout, and is helping to organize the march in Newark on the 24th of this month.
Because the school refused to allow teachers to participate, possibly out of fear of lawsuits and reprisals, all the MHS teachers stayed in the building, Davis said. Students acted as guides, and orderly plans for entrances and exits were disseminated on social media.
Montclair Board of Education President Laura Hertzog said that the district was very appreciative of the efforts of all those involved, including the students for carrying out the walkout and respecting others' viewpoints in a mature way.
But while teachers couldn't participate, Corinna could see them watching from the window. One of her teachers wrote "#enough" on the windowpane.
"I realized how many people really care about this issue. There were so many signs, so many people wearing orange. My friend Emily who ran the Bloomfield walkout said there she had a massive turnout as well." It was empowering, she said.
When she spoke, she said: "When I came home on Valentine’s Day, everything seemed normal. I made some tea, went upstairs, and proceeded to check Facebook. That’s when I saw the news. Another school shooting and this time it was at a high school, one that did not seem too different from our own. When my father came home and told me that an old college friend of his had a daughter in that school, I felt the world freeze around me."
With so many people wanting change, it's bound to happen, she said: she spoke about her organization, Students Demand Action, and handed out voter registration forms. "Everyone was cheering during that. I hope that is one action we can see right away."
Students Demand Action is not going to Washington on the 24th, but instead to Newark. Gun violence disproportionately affects students of color, Davis said. "People of color have been working for common sense gun reform for years, but no one has been listening. The movement needs to be intersectional."
Davis set up a memorial to the slain students in front of the school and "I was so worried it would be a flop, I headed back inside a little bit after everyone else. As I walked in front of the building, I saw people gathering around it and laying down flowers and signs."