#Marchforourlives has taken over national headlines, as well it should. This student driven movement, that not only addresses one of the largest public health issues of our time, but also does so in such an inclusive fashion that civil rights leaders of days past are looking down and cheering. Rising like a Phoenix from the ashes of yet another school shooting atrocity, Parkland Florida Students said #Enough and vowed that despite bullying, despite threats, and despite an all out attempt to silence the survivors, they would continue in their mission to say #NeverAgain and to make sure their voices weren’t drowned.
Those who’ve studied social movements can see how they will succeed when so many others have failed. It’s not because they’re worthier, it’s because they understand the privilege that surrounds them…and how to use it to balance the scales. Joining with allies, youths around the world, and taking legislators and lobbyists to task, these young survivors understand that the balance of power can shift. It is noteworthy to see that it is almost always the young(relative) that enact the most change, not because they have all the answers, but because they refuse to accept the luke-warm answers so frequently given in the realm of politics and policies. Empty promises to look into things, and “this is they way it is” doesn’t work for them. And it shouldn’t. And it’s hard to look into the eyes of someone who have experienced such horror and tell them their experience doesn’t count as much as the money lining the pockets. We can know say how much a child’s life if worth to our policy makers, we just need to look at the donations.
The 24th will be yet another milestone in what has been a year of marches that can deafen crowds. This time, it also coincides with a national walk out. 17 minutes for students across the world to walk out of their classrooms, to stand in solidarity with those lives lost, and demand that their safety become priority. The irony is that many schools have had reactions to this, often citing “safety” as the cause for condemning those who wish to partake. While I understand the difficult situation administrators are in, the problem is that we too often give up freedom for false security, and hope no one notices that it’s a paper-thin excuse. For students concerned of an armed gunman on premises, safety for a peaceful walk out seems laughable. And in fact, for many schools it is. Gym classes are still held outside. Many have open or semi-open campus policies in place that allow students to come and go either freely or conditionally to their schedules. But the backlash of punishment for those partaking in this walkout has bordered on criminal. Threatening suspension, and other punitive measures for partaking in this exercise is beyond ridiculous, and frankly, as backed by the ACLU, skating on legal thin ice. Marking a child absent from class is fair, but vague threats of codes of conduct, and blocking pathways with security, as well as suspension and other permanent markers on a student record is a disgusting act by educators tasked with preparing our students to go out into the world and above all, do good!
Perhaps it was even more shocking to me, to see my own high school, Ward Melville on this path. I felt utterly ashamed at a school that I have always been proud to be a graduate of. Like a few other schools, WMHS opted to tell the students the tasks they could perform instead of listening to the voices of those concerned and acknowledging that school walk outs are part of our nation’s history. I myself remember participating in them when I was a student following 9/11 and the subsequent wars. We knew who would be drafted should it come to that, and we were not in agreement. This wasn’t a national event either, but our peers who wanted to ensure that our voices were heard. Today, WMHS stands opposed, and ready to respond with security to send student’s back to class. They refuse to comment on this, as it is apparently a change in stance since students met with administrators previously and they offered various walk out suggestions to ensure safety measure were in place. They’ve also refused to comment on what qualifies as “breaking code of conduct” that would result in suspension and other penalties. If a student declines to follow the directions to return, but does so respectfully and peacefully, they can still be threatened with suspension from insubordination. A lesson we learned in my own time there. The vague use of such language also allows the school to implement various means of preventing students from leaving campus. Something that they would not do should a student “cut class” as most have probably done at least once in their lives. I don’t want to sound as though the school’s attempts to have alternative options aren’t a good step, it’s just not enough. Card writing, and moments of silence, separated and apart is not how we change the world. And it’s not hearing their voices, it’s silencing them.
17 minutes. 17 minutes to stand on the side of history and to understand civic engagement is a cornerstone that many of these students strive to be a part of, because it is their lives, their friend’s lives at stake. It could have just as easily been them, and they know it. So, I’m asking that administrators stand aside, you might not be able to condone it, although other schools have. You might not agree with it, but that’s not what education is about, but you have to understand it’s bigger than you. To the students, remember the lessons of history, peaceful protests gain rapid and often larger backlash than you can imagine. Do it anyway. Fear is the tool of those afraid to lose a loose grip of power, not powerful people. True leadership doesn’t require fear tactics. Your lives are more than 17 minutes, make sure when you look back you fulfill each minute with something worthwhile. Remembering those who no longer have minutes is a damn good start.