US Student Walkouts Have Changed American History Before. Here's How
'68 Los Angeles school protesters see link to Parkland teens
Participants of a 1968 Los Angeles high school walkout over dropout rates, paddle beatings for speaking Spanish and other issues say they are hearing echoes of those protests in the voices of outraged students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people died in a mass shooting. (Devra Weber/La Raza Photograph collection/UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center via AP) ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.
As adults in the United States government continue to debate how best to respond to February’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., many teenagers who support stronger gun-control laws are helping to drive that conversation. Though they , they are making their voices heard outside the nation’s schools — in some cases, by physically getting up and leaving.
On Wednesday, participants in thewill leave their classrooms for 17 minutes, for the 17 lives lost in the shooting. On March 24, a Saturday, the will bring students from Florida and elsewhere to Washington, D.C. Then, on April 20, the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine shooting, some students are that would last most of the school day.
Student walkout over guns poses balancing act for schools
As schools around the country brace for student walkouts following the deadly shooting in Parkland, Florida, principals and superintendents are scrambling to perform a delicate balancing act: How to let thousands of students exercise their First Amendment rights while not disrupting school and not pulling administrators into the raging debate over gun control.Some have taken a hard line, promising to suspend students who walk out, while others are using a softer approach, working with students to set up places on campus where they can remember the victims of the Florida shooting and express their views about school safety and gun control.Since the Feb.
There may be different dates but this is one movement!— National School Walkout (@schoolwalkoutUS)
Though student walkouts can still be, they have an established place in American history.
TIME reached out to people who participated in three of the 20th century’s biggest school walkouts. John Stokes, 86, a retired principal in the Baltimore City Public Schools, was a 19-year-old student at R.R. Moton High School in Farmville, Va., when he helped organize a walkout in which students marched to the local courthouse on April 23, 1951. Janice W. Kelsey, 70, a retired elementary school principal, was 16 when she spent four days in jail for taking part in the Birmingham, Ala., Children’s Crusade on May 2, 1963. Paula Crisostomo, a retired college administrator, and Luis Torres, a former journalist, both 67, were two of the more than 10,000 students who walked out of five Los Angeles high schools in March of 1968 in what was known as the East L.A. school walkouts or “blowouts.”
A generation shaped by gun violence plans to make itself heard today. Here's how
<p>Jackson Mittleman opened a news alert on his phone on Valentine's Day, and saw a tragically familiar image: Students with their hands raised, fleeing a shooting.</p>It brought him back to December 14, 2012, when similar images from his hometown of Newtown, Connecticut, were broadcast around the country. On that day, his community joined what he calls a family "no one wants to be a part of.
Here are the lessons they offered for those who will follow in their footsteps:
Know When You Need to Be Heard
The precise circumstances behind each of these past walkouts was unique. But in each case, the participants tell TIME that the decision to walk out of their school buildings indicated that times were desperate. Walking out happened when other attempts to get attention failed.
In Farmville, the march — led by 16-year-old civil-rights pioneer Barbara Johns — was driven by abysmal learning conditions at the all-black school. At R.R. Moton High School, there were more than 450 students who had to fit on a high school campus originally built to accommodate 180. Three tar-paper shacks had been put up to accommodate the overflow. Parents had gone to the school board, and local leaders told them to be patient. Stokes says if the school district had built permanent buildings to accommodate the overflow instead of tar-paper shacks that “let the rain come in” then “I wouldn’t be talking to you now,” because the adults might have just kept waiting for change to come. Instead, with every other avenue exhausted, the students marched.
What's changed a month after the Parkland shooting
A month ago, an ex-student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High opened fire on terrified students and teachers, killing 17 people. Here's what we've learned since then.The massacre of 17 students and faculty members added to a grim statistic: three of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern US history happened within five months of one another.
In Birmingham, young people protested as part of the city’s central place in the larger fight for integration. Their involvement was initially designed to minimize the economic impact of community members being sent to jail — after all, the students generally didn’t have families to support.
In Los Angeles, meanwhile, students had compiled a long list of grievances about the schools that served the Latino community, ranging from textbooks that didn’t cover their people’s history, to a curriculum centered on funneling kids into manual labor rather than college, to locked bathrooms that drove students to relieve themselves in the bushes. They attempted to go through the protocols for addressing those concerns, bringing the list to the school board and local officials. “They ignored us or patronized us, laughed at us, [asking] where were we going to get the money,” says Crisostomo. “They defined us as the next generation of cheap labor.”
Adults Can Help
Though the walkouts were led by teens, some adults laid the groundwork or provided critical support.
In the wave of walkouts, a quote from Marjory Stoneman Douglas herself becomes a rallying cry
"Be a nuisance when it counts. Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action."Students from the Millennium High School gather during a walkout of their classes while participating in the National School Walkout in Manhattan, New York on March 14, 2018.
For example, in 1951, Stokes says the Farmville strikers counted on members of the community, especially local World War II veterans, for loaning them cars to make sure everyone got to the strike and then safely home.
Kelsey was inspired to walk out of her high school after attending a series of mass meetings in Birmingham led by James Bevel,of the school walkouts. Though students may have been drawn in by and “all the cute boys that come,” Kelsey says, it was at those meetings that they were told that they were the movement’s best hope. “I was born into a segregated society, but it was at those meetings that I was made aware of the inequities,” she says. “We wanted to do something about it, and we were told, ‘Well, you can.'”
And participants in the East L.A. walkouts say students were motivated by constant guidance from a social-studies teacher who worked at Lincoln High School and Belmont High School, who filled in the Mexican-American history missing from their textbooks and empowered students to learn more about their heritage. It was a time when the Latino community was fighting for recognition and respect from their neighbors and the national media ().
“This notion that all the high school students decided on their own to organize a student strike, did it all alone, that’s not true,” says Luis Torres, who was the 17-year-old editor of Lincoln High School’s newspaper during the walkout. Social studies teacherwas “the man behind the curtain” who “always gave students the credit for doing what they did. It took students to carry things out, but he was the organizer, he was the strategist. If it weren’t for Sal Castro’s hands-on guidance, it wouldn’t have gone the way it did.” UCLA students, such as , went back and forth from campus to help the high schoolers organize.
'Haunted by the tragedy,' Columbine joins U.S. gun violence walkouts
Like most of her friends at Columbine High School, Abigail Orton had not yet been born when a shooting attack at her school in a Denver suburb left 15 people dead and horrified the country. She was raised in a world in which students have regular active-shooter drills, as their parents once had fire drills, and she joined Wednesday's national student walkout against gun violence to help prevent massacres, such as the one at Columbine in 1999, from happening again."I grew up in a community still haunted by the tragedy from 19 years ago.
They also benefited from consciousness-raising efforts after the Watts Riots, the rise of the Black Panthers and the antiwar protests, for many Mexican-Americans fought in the Vietnam War.
Do Your Homework on the Risks
Even though thewho demonstrate during school hours if they do not disrupt classes, walkouts necessarily wouldn’t fall under that protection from punishment — and taking protest to the streets means that there’s always a chance that the punishment may go beyond school administrators.
“We couldn’t do what the kids in Florida are doing,” Stokes says, in terms of speaking out about plans for walkouts on social media. “We would have been killed.” In his day, they kept the planning process so secret they called it the “Manhattan Project” and used code words.
Kelsey echoes that idea. When she walked out of school in Birmingham, she carried a purse already packed for a stay in jail, with a toothbrush, toothpaste, change of underwear, a comb and her sister’s leather jacket. Some parents were also afraid that the Ku Klux Klan would come after them for their children’s participation.
That level of vitriol is something today’s student protesters may not have to worry about.
“[That Parkland is] acommunity, whereas we were, in East L.A., predominantly Mexican, is huge difference, especially as far as how the rest of the country sees them and their struggle,” Crisostomo argues. The East L.A. walkout participants were called “troublemakers,” and “dupes of the Communists” as Torres puts it. (Urban Chicanos were lumped in with the Chicano farm workers who were around the same time.)
Pa. students serve detention for school walkout by wearing Parkland victims’ names, locking arms
Students at a southeast Pennsylvania high school served their detention on Saturday for taking part in nationwide walkouts last week by linking arms and wearing the names of those killed in gun violence on their clothes. More than 200 Students at Pennridge High School in Perkasie who walked out of class last week to protest gun violence were given detention.
But, even if things may be easier for those participating in the student walkout than for their predecessors, there’s always some risk involved. Crisostomo says that when students demonstrated on the campus of Occidental College, from which she retired recently as an Assistant Dean of Students for Intercultural Affairs, she would often remind her students of that fact. “I would help them think it out,” she says. “What’s the risk? There’s always a risk. And is it worth it?”
Remember That Change Takes Time
One huge difference between today’s protests and those of 50 years ago is the new technology today’s activists have to speak directly to the public and make their demands heard.
Crisostomo points out she had to sit people down personally to convince them to join the walkout, in addition to passing out copies of the underground newspaper organizers produced to educate students on the issues. Her biggest advice to activists today is to approach as many people at the school as possible; in fact, her biggest regret about 1968 is not “reaching out more” to those Mexican and Chinese immigrant students who didn’t speak English.
And social media can do more than spread the word. Stokes points out that, thanks to the visibility of social media, the Parkland students’ actions have prompted immediate change in some ways, such asand
But, even when activists had to wait for results — years or even decades — they know they made a difference.
The Farmville case would later become one of five rolled into the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education desegregation ruling. Images of children facing down fire hoses and police dogs contributed to Birmingham’s place as a turning point in the civil rights movement. And the East L.A. walkouts are now seen as a key moment in the history of the local Chicano community.
And it may be no surprise that many of the one-time student marchers went on to pursue careers as teachers and school administrators.
“I’ve always had faith in students because I knew what we did as students,” Stokes says. “When people said it couldn’t be done, we did it.”
Students plan abortion protest after debate on walkout .
Students at a California high school are organizing an anti-abortion rights protest that was inspired by the recent nationwide student walkout for gun control. Rocklin High School student Brandon Gillespie tells KOVR-TV he wants to "honor all the lives of aborted babies" with the protest.He says the idea was prompted by history teacher Julianne Benzel. She was placed on administrative leave when she asked students to consider whether there was a double standard over protests on school grounds between gun control and abortion.
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