On Wednesday, thousands of students around the United States answered a national call to action by walking out of class. But while the initial ask from Women's March Youth EMPOWER called for students, teachers and school administrators to exit their school buildings for 17 minutes to demand "gun reform legislation, "yesterday's protesters did not rally behind a uniform message. While many students held to a general demand for more gun laws, others went different routes. For example, students with Juntos and the Philadelphia Student Union called for divestment from in-school policing, and greater investment in mental and emotional health services. They demanded the creation of restorative justice programs and measures aimed at protecting students and families from ICE, in addition to gun control measures that do not "result in targeted policing of black and brown bodies." Students at New York's Central Park East High School also called for the "decriminalization of black and brown students in our schools." And in Chicago, students at a number of schools refused to simplify the violence they face in their communities.
While gun control was a major focus of Chicago's walkouts, some of the city's most spirited walkout organizing came from youth who were more concerned with the conditions that incubate intra-community violence, and how those conditions are maintained and enforced by the state. After participating in their respective walkouts, students from half a dozen Chicago high schools organized a small rally downtown to confront city officials and uplift their demands. In a statement, the group said that Chicago Public School students "are constantly faced with threats of budget cuts and school closings, while gun violence continues to threaten our communities." The students condemned Mayor Rahm Emanuel's efforts to build a new $95 million police academy in the city's Garfield Park neighborhood while their schools are threatened with budget cuts and closures. The students argued that greater investment in special education, ESL services and mental health services, rather than policing, metal detectors and further criminalization, would help create a "safe and welcoming environment for students." As one student declared, after the rallying students rushed into City Hall, "Don't arm our teachers! Arm us with books and resources!"
The Chicago students who converged downtown read their demands aloud multiple times during the event, which spanned several locations. These demands, which youth organizers distributed to journalists, included a new moratorium on school closures, more school counselors (a ratio of at least 1:200 students), librarians in every school, more after-school programs and a full-time nurse for every school. The students also demanded restorative justice trainings for school staff, more youth jobs and an end to charter school expansion. Additionally, they called for the city to reopen mental health clinics that have been shuttered under Rahm Emanuel's administration. The students repeatedly contrasted the city's failure to meet the needs of its youth with the mayor's willingness to spend an extra $95 million on Chicago's infamously racist and violent police department.
[For more on this story by Kelly Hayes, go to http://www.truth-out.org/news/...unity-transformation]
For more stories on the student walkouts, see Students Walk Out to Protest Gun Violence in NY, Atlanta and LA and Students of Color Condemn Proposals to Arm Teachers During #NationalWalkoutDay and Scenes From Student Walkouts Against Gun Violence and 'They Can Either Go With It, or They Can Get Out'.