The support of teenagers taking to the streets to demand more of their government and society is amazing, but very few adults (anyone not in high school) know the amount of risk these younger people actually take.
For the mostly Black and Latino students warehoused in underfunded and over-policed schools, the decision to walk out carries a number of very real consequences. Especially if you’re walking out to protest something that doesn’t have the support of elected officials, teachers unions, and the general public. Things like funding, school privatization, closures and the fight to remove police from their buildings.
For these students, who are not fortunate enough to learn in spaces where questioning and using your “voice” is encouraged and taught, they face the reality of possible arrest. Being hemmed up by school police officers, having their proms and right to walk in graduation taken from them. They’re threatened with having their school records erased and receiving “F’s for the day”. These poor, Black and Brown students are demonized in the press, have their parents notified and threatened themselves, are stopped and frisked outside the building and are branded “trouble makers” by their principals meaning they’ll be targeted for “discipline” every single time they reenter that building. Take Wilby High School students in Waterbury, CT for example, who walked out today alongside thousands of other students across the country. The Waterbury Observer reported this morning the following statement by a Wilby student:
“At 10 am students walked to the doors to try to go outside with their posters but principals and staff blocked the doors to try to prevent students from going out. My teacher wouldn’t let us leave our room so we watched from the windows. We have an officer that patrols our school and he was there. The students were outside for 17 minutes and some students were not let back in, they were sent home. Other students were suspended or given detention.”
High School students for decades have been willing to put the ultimate risks on the line in the name of what’s right, without the support their college counterparts receive. Without the acknowledgement of the work they’ve put in on which many movements are built on, and the continued erasure from and within “movement” spaces because of their age.
Take a second and ask yourself if you’d be willing to walk out of your job right now at the risk of the potential consequences?
For those students trapped in their buildings today, to the ones who paid dearly in all the walkouts before, and the students who took full advantage of their privilege and fought back on behalf of all of us…Thank you.
Hiram Rivera is an organizer and former director of the Philadelphia Student Union. He is a native of New Haven, CT and has spent the past two decades working on issues of Juvenile & Education Justice and Police Reform in Connecticut, New York City and now Philadelphia.