Photo by Dani Miller
When election day rolls around every four years, high school students are put in a tragically unique situation. We are old enough to be directly affected by politics, yet we are too young to vote. While our voices may not be heard in the voting booth, it is more important than ever that we make sure our voices are heard in other ways.
In the last few months, MCPS students succeeded in making their voices heard. Kickstarted by a walkout at Montgomery Blair high school on Nov. 14, high schools all across MCPS, including Sherwood, Richard Montgomery (RM), Blake and Springbrook among others, came together and walked off of their respective campuses in peaceful protest against President-Elect Donald Trump and what he represents.
In fact, students of MCPS amplified their voices loudly enough to make the cover of the Washington Post. If there’s one thing to say about MCPS students, it’s that we make our voices heard.
However, with a magnitude of support comes a magnitude of kickback. Many people have written off these walkouts as unproductive, divisive or simply an excuse for high school kids to cut class. Superintendent Jack R. Smith even released a video disavowing student-led walkouts after the actions of a Trump supporter turned RM’s demonstration violent.
As America comes to terms with the results of the election, and we reflect on the eventful last few months of 2016, the question that remains is, were the walkouts productive or were the cynicists right? Trump is still going to be our president, so the protesters didn’t accomplish their goal, right?
Wrong. The point of these walkouts was not to overthrow Trump. The point wasn’t to spark a revolution against a system that can put a person in office who may not even receive the popular vote. These walkouts were no less than a showing of solidarity. A message to marginalized groups that Trump’s administration may not see them, but MCPS students do. And they were a message to the Trump administration, stating loud and clear that young people are vehement and will not be silenced.
To fully understand the importance and the magnitude of student led walkouts, one has to understand the history of such protests.
Student walkouts became a key tool for change in the 1960s, when thousands of students walked out of their college and high school campuses to protest injustices such as U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war, racism on campuses, and unequal education opportunities.
Although the historical significance of the most recent walkouts are clear, skeptics concerns over students motivation still stands.
One of the main criticisms against the most recent protests is the fact that many people only participated to cut class. Although there is validity behind this concern, to discredit an entire student body and question their intentions based on the motivation of a few would be misleading.
Students and young people are poised to shape the next generation. And while we may not be able to vote, we care. We are fully aware that this is the world we will inherit, a world in which we have had no say in. We are fully aware of the repercussions that Trump’s rhetoric has already had on our country.
Even if the motivations of the minority are questionable, their intentions do not invalidate our demands. We are demanding to be heard, to be seen and to have our civil liberties protected under the threat of a possibly oppressive administration. And these demands have merit.
Another major criticism of these walkouts is that they are only further dividing students in a time when it is more important than ever to be united.
These walkouts are not further dividing us. We were divided before the walkouts, before Trump won the election, before the election even started and decades before that. America is no stranger to division, and although opposing ideologies may be bubbling to the surface due to the election, they have always been there.
If anything, these walkouts are uniting us. They are uniting us in the same way that the March on Washington united America in 1963. In the midst of all this chaos, we haven’t lost sight of what makes America truly great. The freedom to voice our opinion.
Even if skeptics understand the necessity of protesting, and applaud those making their voices heard, they may not understand why the walkouts have to occur during school hours. After all, MCPS isn’t at fault for the election results. Some also say that it is counterproductive to lose hours of education at a time just to walk out of class.
This is a valid concern from many people on both sides of the argument. However, the power of specifically staging a school walkout rather than just attending a protest can be summarized perfectly by Aldon Morris, a professor of sociology and African American studies at Northwestern University.
According to a Dec. 19, NPR interview with Morris, walking out of school symbolizes that there is something so inherently undemocratic about our society that business as usual, in this case a normal school day, has to be interrupted.
Even with all this in mind, one still may not be convinced that the most recent MCPS student walkouts were effective, and that is their right, just like it is our right to participate in them. For many students however, walking out is not only a right, but a responsibility. Many of us feel a responsibility to the millions of revolutionaries who came before, and the millions who are going to come after us. We are holding the weight of our ancestors on our shoulders, and we are yelling with the strength and urgency of three voices: our own voices, those who have been silenced, and those who choose not to speak out.
In the words of Martin Luther King Jr, “our lives begin to end the moment we choose to stay silent about things that matter.”