Did you hear about the 'walk up' — not walkout? It's a big fail.

I woke up on March 14 to students walking out of school in protest of America's inaction on gun violence.

Fed-up student after fed-up student filled my television screen, and I found myself getting a little teary-eyed as I watched them stand together in solidarity outside their schools. These kids have seen and experienced far too much.

I perused my Facebook feed and saw messages of support and encouragement to kids participating in the National School Walkout.


I also encountered various iterations of this:

On March 14, encourage students to walk up. Walk up to the kid who sits alone at lunch and invite her to sit with you. ...

Posted by Amy Flynn on Thursday, March 8, 2018

Such posts, advising kids to put their energies into being kinder instead of engaging in civil protest, are accompanied by the hashtag #WalkUpNotOut.

The gist of #WalkUpNotOut is that protest is pointless and kids should try to be more inclusive in order to stop gun violence. The premise of the argument is that America's epidemic of school shootings isn't about gun policy, it's about kids feeling excluded, lonely, and unloved.

The implication? If kids would just be nicer to one another, this issue would be solved.

The message has gotten widespread support — particularly among gun rights advocates — but also among idealistic peacemakers drawn to anything advocating kindness.

I get it. Kids who have healthy friendships and support systems don't generally decide to mass murder their classmates. That seems like a logical point.

However, it's a deflection from the issue at hand — and a potentially dangerous one at that.

What #WalkUpNotOut basically says is, "You might get shot at school because you're not being nice enough."

The problem with the message of "walk up, not out" is that it's essentially victim-blaming. It's like telling a domestic abuse sufferer that if she'd just been nicer to her abuser, she wouldn't have been hit. That the issue of school shootings isn't really about shootings, but about being nicer.

Image via Saul Loeb/Getty Images.

As one Facebook user pointed out, it inadvertently sends the wrong message to the wrong people:

No doubt, all of us could be kinder to our fellow humans. But there have been bullies, loners, and outcasts forever. There are bullies, loners, and outcasts in other countries. Kids being unkind to one another is not a uniquely modern nor uniquely American phenomenon. But regular school shootings are.

I'm not saying kids shouldn't be kinder. But kindness alone doesn't solve our unique gun violence problem.

I’ve not been in a single school in the past decade that has not utilized character education and had inclusion messages plastered all over the walls. Many schools have character curriculums designed to help students be good citizens, good friends, and good people in general. Such programs can have a positive impact on students and schools.

But are they the magic answer to gun violence? No. Of course kids should be kind. Of course we should be encouraging kids to reach out to kids who are lonely. But what about when that's not enough?

Photo by Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images.

We have too many guns and they're too easy to get. That's the only difference between our kids and kids around the world.

One could make the argument that America has a "niceness" problem, but unkindness is a universal human reality. We are not more kindness-challenged than other places in the world, and messages like #WalkUpNotOut aren't the answer to our unique gun violence problem. Other countries think we're ridiculous because of our gun culture. Honestly, I'm sitting here thinking the same thing.

Kids can "walk up" to be nicer to one another and they can "walk out" to advocate for gun control legislation. Many of these teens are soon-to-be voters who've been traumatized by active shooter drills their entire lives. Let's not squash their civic engagement with platitudes about niceness. They deserve better than that.

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As a child, Dr. Sangeeta Bhatia's parents didn't ask her what she wanted to be when she grew up. Instead, her father would ask, "Are you going to be a doctor? Are you going to be an engineer? Or are you going to be an entrepreneur?"

Little did he know that she would successfully become all three: an award-winning biomedical and mechanical engineer who performs cutting-edge medical research and has started multiple companies.

Bhatia holds an M.D. from Harvard University, an M.S. in mechanical engineering from MIT, and a PhD in biomedical engineering from MIT. Bhatia, a Wilson professor of engineering at MIT, is currently serving as director of the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine, where she's working on nanotechnology targeting enzymes in cancer cells. This would allow cancer screenings to be done with a simple urine test.

Bhatia owes much of her impressive career to her family. Her parents were refugees who met in graduate school in India; in fact, she says her mom was the first woman to earn an MBA in the country. The couple immigrated to the U.S. in the 1960s, started a family, and worked hard to give their two daughters the best opportunities.

"They made enormous sacrifices to pick a town with great public schools and really push us to excel the whole way," Bhatia says. "They really believed in us, but they expected excellence. The story I like to tell about my dad is like, if you brought home a 96 on a math test, the response would be, 'What'd you get wrong?'"

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Someday, future Americans will look back on this era of school shootings in bafflement and disbelief—not only over the fact that it happened, but over how long it took us to enact significant legislation to try to stop it.

Five people die from vaping, and the government talks about banning vaping devices. Hundreds of American children have been shot to death in their classrooms, sometimes a dozen or so at a time, and the government has done practically nothing. It's unconscionable.

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"Some senses may be turned up too high and some turned down too low. As a result, the data that comes in tends to be distorted, and it's very hard to perceive a person's environment accurately," Shore continued.

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Don't test on animals. That's something we can all agree on, right? No one likes to think of defenseless cats, dogs, hamsters, and birds being exposed to a bunch of things that could make them sick (and the animals aren't happy about it, either). It's no wonder so many people and organizations have fought to stop it. But did you ever think that maybe brands are testing products on us too, they're just not telling us they're doing it?

I know, I know, it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but that's exactly what e-cigarette brands like JUUL (which corners the e-cigarette market) are doing in this country right now, and young people are on the frontlines of the fallout. Most people assume that the government would have looked at devices that allow people to inhale unknown chemicals into their lungs BEFORE they hit the market. You would think that someone in the government would have determined that they are safe. But nope, that hasn't happened. And vape companies are fighting to delay the government's ability to evaluate these products.

So no one really knows the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use, not even JUUL's CEO, nor are they informing the public about the potential risks. On top of that, according to the FDA, there's been a 78% increase in e-cigarette usage among high school and middle school-aged children in just the last two years, prompting the U.S. Surgeon General to officially recognize the trend as an epidemic and urge action against it.

These facts have elicited others to take action, as well.

Truth Initiative, the nonprofit best known for dropping the real facts about smoking and vaping since 2000 through its truth campaign, is now on a mission to confront e-cigarette brands like JUUL about the lack of care they've taken to inform consumers of the potential adverse side effects of their products. And they're doing it with the help of animal protesters who are tired of seeing humans treated like test subjects.

The March Against JUUL | Tested On Humans | truth www.youtube.com

"No one knows the long-term effects of JUULing so any human who uses one is being used as a lab rat," says, appropriately, Mario the Sewer Rat.

"I will never stop fighting JUUL. Or the mailman," notes Doug the Pug, the Instagram-famous dog star.

Truth, the national counter-marketing campaign for youth smoking prevention, hopes this fuzzy, squeaky, snorty animal movement arms humans with the facts about vaping and inspires them to demand transparency from JUUL and other e-cigarette companies. You can get your own fur babies involved too by sharing photos of them wearing protest gear with the hashtag #DontTestOnHumans. Here's some adorable inspo for you:

The dangerous stuff is already out there, but with knowledge on their side, young people will hopefully make the right choices and fight companies making the wrong ones. If you need more convincing, here are the serious facts.

Over the last decade, 127 e-cigarette-related seizures were reported, which prompted the FDA to launch an official investigation in April 2019. Since then, over 215 cases of a new, severe lung illness have sprung up all over the country, with six deaths to date. While scientists aren't yet sure of the root cause, the majority of victims were young adults who regularly vaped and used e-cigarettes. As such, the CDC has launched an official investigation into the potential link.

Sixteen-year-old Luka Kinard, a former frequent e-cigarette-user, is one of the many teens who experienced severe side effects. "Vaping was my biggest addiction," he told NowThis. "It lasted for about 15 months of my high school career." In 2018, Kinard was hospitalized after having a seizure. He also had severe nausea, chest pains, and difficulty breathing.

After the harrowing experience, he quit vaping, and began speaking out about his experience to help inform others and hopefully inspire them to quit and/or take action. "It shouldn't take having a seizure as a result of nicotine addiction like I had for teens to realize that these companies are taking advantage of what we don't know," Kinard said.

Teens are 16 times more likely to use e-cigarettes than adults, and four times more likely to take up traditional smoking as a result, according to truth, and yet the e-cigarette market remains virtually unregulated and untested. In fact, companies like JUUL continue to block and prevent FDA regulations, investing more than $1 million in lawyers and lobbying efforts in the last quarter alone.

Photo by Lindsay Fox/Pixabay

Consumers have a right to know what they're putting in their bodies. If everyone (and their pets) speaks up, the e-cigarette industry will have to make a change. Young people are already taking action across the country. They're hosting rallies nationwide and on October 9 as part of a National Day of Action, young people are urging their friends and classmates to "Ditch JUUL." Will you join them?

For help with quitting e-cigarettes, visit thetruth.com/quit or text DITCHJUUL to 88709 for free, anonymous resources.

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