All Out to Support Youth Fighting for Change
On March 14 tens of thousands of youth across the country walked out of class, opposing gun violence and demanding that their right to schools that are safe learning environments, not prisons, be dealt with. They demanded an end to the violence of police in their communities and rejected the promotion of violence and use of force as solutions to problems. As signs put it, Why Do We Need Weapons if We Want a Peaceful World?Automatic Weapons — An Assault on Our Future; You Cannot Build Peace with a Piece.
Students from Parkland initiated the walkouts and many actions named and remembered those who were killed there. High School, Middle School and University students rallied and marched, many in the face of threats of suspension, to show that significant change is needed and they are determined to achieve it. As students put it, “We’re going to make ourselves heard whether you want to hear it or not,” “We’re going to be loud, and we’re not going to apologize for that.” “We’re not stopping.” “The youthfulness to our movement is empowering because look at how much time we have left in our generation’s lifetime to advocate for change and to make that change happen.”
Washington, DC saw one of the largest actions, with students from Virginia, Maryland and DC converging on the White House and Congress. They blocked streets and targeted government as being responsible for guaranteeing rights. Maryland had imposed a ban on walkouts but thousands of students rejected this threat. Many from suburban areas surrounding DC marched en masse down major roads to show their defiance.
Across the country there was broad unity as the youth themselves organized and decided the actions to take despite efforts to block them. In Concord, California, students broke through a locked gate to conduct their walkout. In Madison undocumented immigrant youth joined students to demand that their claims on society for rights be respected. From Yarmouth, Maine, to Parkland, Florida; from New York City, to Decatur, Georgia, Birmingham, Alabama, Nashville, Tennessee; to Livingston, Montana, Las Vegas, Nevada, Los Angeles, California, Seattle, Washington, Juneau, Alaska and more than 3,000 places in between, students stood as one in demanding that solutions to the social violence they are contending with be found.
Rallies in Chicago and elsewhere saw students put their hands in the air in the “Don’t Shoot” call to police, growing out of the police killing of an unarmed youth in Ferguson. Chicago students also listed demands such as equal funding, keeping all schools open, reopening mental health clinics and to End the Criminalization of Youth (see below for list of demands). There was broad recognition that the problem is not primarily one of an individual shooter with a gun, but rather a society that does not protect and defend the youth and the necessity to change that. The spirit everywhere was that change in favor of the youth is needed and they will persist in organizing to bring it about.
Security Lies in the Fight for Rights
While youth are directing attention to violence as a social problem requiring social solutions, government officials at all levels are calling to increase use of force. The sheriff in Broward County, Florida, which includes Parkland and Miami, has said he will be arming his deputies in the schools with automatic weapons. The law passed in Florida has a plan to arm teachers. Students have countered, Arms are for Hugging; Police and Teachers with Guns are Two Guns Too Many. In Long Island state troopers are in the schools, supposedly to stop gang violence. Instead, undocumented youth, especially organizers, are being branded as gang members and threatened with deportation. In many places, students were told to stay inside or be suspended, and police were prevalent.
Every effort is being made to promote more armed police in the schools, more measures to treat youth as criminals — to have teachers as police and schools as prisons. In the name of safety, such measures serve to further control and suppress the youth and condition all to accept what is unacceptable. A passive youth and workforce is needed not only to sustain rule by the rich at home but also to wage their wars abroad to protect their interests.
Youth are making clear that they reject this direction and are fighting for a bright future. It is through the fight for the rights of all, abroad and at home, that their interests are being defended.
As the New York Senate passed a bill providing funding for armed police in NY schools, and Long Island sent armed State Troopers into their schools, targeting immigrant youth, students rallied in Albany to say No! Counselors, Not Cops!Stop Suspensions. They emphasized that more guns will likely mean more deaths of students, especially African Americans and Latinos who are already unjustly targeted with suspensions. They also spoke to the fact that many schools have a single counselor for hundreds of students. The average nationwide is about one counselor for 450 students. This is criminal! Students are demanding funding for counselors and for meeting the rights of students to schools that are centers of learning, not prisons. Dignity in the Schools! Which means defending rights and as the actions show, students have a role to play in making decisions about their schools. No guns in our schools! More Counselors Now! Whose schools? Our Schools? Who Decides? We Decide!
Chicago students were among those who targeted police violence in their communities and demanded their right to education and to be treated as human beings, not criminals. Among their demands are:
1) Keep All Schoos Open in Chicago #NoSchoolClosings
2) Fund schools in Black and Brown communities equitably:
3) Invest in schools using TIF money and by making banks and the wealthy pay
4) Reopen mental health clinics
5) Make Chicago a real sanctuary city for all by eliminating carve out in Welcoming City Ordinance
6) Jobs for youth
7) Improve language access and culturally relevant curriculum
8) Fully fund special education and bilingual services
9) End Criminalization of youth
10) Student committees for hiring school staff
11) Sixteen and seventeen year olds should have the right to vote as well as non-citizens