Student protests in the United States aren’t a new phenomenon, and neither is the criticism that comes with them. As walkouts and other forms of student activism are scheduled and carried through to fruition throughout the next months in light of the Parkland shooting, it’s important to know what opposition you might be met with when participating — and how to respond.
1). The walkouts are a “conformist rebellion.”
Barton Swaim from The Weekly Standard writes, “A more conformist rebellion would be difficult to imagine. These woke revolutionaries simply did what they were told, when they were told, by faraway professional agitators. Most school districts managed the whole affair into orderly compliance.”
Various schools were indeed enacting disciplinary actions or prevention methods in order to “manage” the walkouts, so perhaps there is some truth to Swaim’s claim. Otherwise, however, students were reaching out to social media throughout the day to share the different ways schools were preventing them from participating, not assisting them.
Of course, yes, there are some schools, teachers and administrators that worked with students to allow protests to function more smoothly. The University of Redlands was one institution that stood in solidarity in this way, students standing alongside teachers and other members of the faculty. A good question to ask at this point is: to whom are activists organizing against? Those who point to teachers standing with students as “conformity” fail to acknowledge that it is not an adult vs. youth campaign being run in the first place; the intention has always been a fight for gun control, an issue that transcends age and occupation.
2). Walkouts are only being used to skip school.
If being threatened with suspensions and unexcused absences in a time of decisive college applications is something a student was okay with, they could feasibly skip school regardless of a walkout. Even if the schools were cooperative, however, the sweeping overgeneralization that kids are this desperate to skip school for 17 minutes fails to acknowledge that the movement wasn’t something that spawned overnight. Another march will take place on the 24th — a Saturday — and another walkout on April 20th. Students are mobilizing, not bandwagoning, and the dismissal of a protest in this way is likely to only be met with more resistance.
3). Walkouts don’t do anything.
Some remained hesitant to join for various reasons, one of which being the effectivity of the protest. The history of effective student activism, particularly walkouts in the United States, however, can date back to the 1920’s.
At Fisk University in 1924, president Fayette McKenzie enlisted a series of policies including newspaper censorship and curriculum changes, leading to a mass walkout from the student body. Ultimately, McKenzie resigned, and the policies were revoked.
From 1968-1969, the Third World Liberation Front, those of various ethnic student groups on campus from San Francisco State University and University of California Berkeley, organized as a coalition with a series of demands for an Ethnic Studies department run by faculty of color. After the demands were either rejected or watered down, the students mobilized in the form of a strike, leading to the effective temporary shutdown of SFSU, and the eventual creation of the first ethnic studies departments.
In 1968 as well, Chicano students led walkouts in East Los Angeles schools in response to the poor schooling conditions and lack of quality education. Aside from the stronger sense of community and pride gained within Chicano youth, enrollment rates in colleges for Mexican Americans jumped by 23%, and Chicano studies programs became established.
In other words: yes, protests do work and, yes, even when students lead them.
In sum, a walkout — or any form of organized protest — does hold the potential to put a voice into action, and a result. And like primarily literally any other issue, the gun control discussion does not come with an age limit. Should you choose to march or walkout throughout the next few months, remember your rights, drive, and that the potential for change rests in your palms — and protest signs.