In-School Advocacy: Lessons from organzing a Student Walk-Out
After the tragic school shooting in Uvalde, Texas last year, I saw that many students nationwide were deeply shaken by the event, afraid to go to school, and wanted a space to speak about and remember the students who had lost their lives to gun violence in schools.
In my school specifically, many students were afraid to even show up on campus because of a burst of shooting threats at our school directly following the events, in part because we are located on a college campus. Never before had I seen students feel more unsafe and unprotected, especially since in my freshman year there was an active shooter on my campus, and we were familiar with the terror of that experience.
Therefore, I knew I had to do something, to build strength and to create solidarity within the student body to stand up for this cause that we believed in. However, much to my dismay, this became a much more difficult task than I had expected it to be.
A group of students and I decided to walk out of class as a demonstration against in-school gun violence and an act of commemorating and fighting for the students who had lost their lives in the Uvalde shooting.
But while this was an extremely important event to me, I also wondered whether I would be faced with being removed from my elected leadership position because I had left class to demonstrate a political belief, or possibly even suspended.
But as I reflected upon what to do, I thought about my experiences with the Youth Liberty Squad, and how my mentors here had taught me how to exercise my rights. Anyone can access the My School My Rights website, which lays out for you clearly the rights that we students are entitled to in our schools. That encompasses the right to organize a protest at school, as long as you follow your district’s rules as to the time, place, and manner of the protest.
Furthermore, you cannot be suspended for participating in a walk-out protest, as essentially “missing class” is not on the list of the types of acts we can be suspended for. In LAUSD, peaceful demonstrations during non-instructional time that do not interrupt the educational program are allowed, and therefore that gave me the right to organize my walkout during the 15-minute nutrition break between classes.
In the end, I decided to still hold the event, despite the risk of being removed from my ASB post, because this issue was far too important for me to just pass by. And although our rally went beyond the allotted 15 minutes, we did not disturb the classes during that time, or the students who chose to remain in class. Over half of the student body walked out and chose to arrive late to their second period to finish honoring and saying the names of each student who passed away in the Uvalde shooting.
I organized student speakers to make speeches on the need for gun control and reform, and held up a vigil that we placed at the front of the school for the next week. We ended the rally by providing mobilization opportunities for students to contact Texas representatives to respond to the shooting with legislative action.
In the next week of school, I did not end up receiving any notices of suspension or removal from ASB. I did however receive feedback from students that the space had provided them with much needed healing, some even shared with me that this experience led them to advocate for gun control outside of school.
All in all, I have worked these past four years to ensure that my leadership comes from a place of care for my school’s student body, from seeing and hearing students’ need for change, to then taking action to make that change a reality. And I believe that many of you reading this are similar to me in that your leadership comes from a similar place. And if this type of leadership isn’t being allowed at your school, or is being suffocated, know that you have a right to free expression, and they cannot take that away from you.
Do not let the doubts and discrimination of others stop you from doing what you know is right. Unfortunately, in the reality of today’s world, there will be times when we need to stand up against the people that should be supporting us, and fight for the causes we believe in.