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    Youth Power Movement Answers the Call to Action

    By Lyndsey Schlax–

    (Editor’s Note: Teacher Lyndsey Schlax of the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts launched the nation’s first on-site high school LGBT course in 2015. She still offers that groundbreaking class but is teaching Ethnic Studies this semester. The two subjects often intersect, so in this column her students share their thoughts about both Ethnic Studies and LGBT-related matters, including their concerns, what they have learned in class and more. Here, ten students from AP Government, LGBTQ Studies and Ethnic Studies classes at Ruth Asawa reflect upon the recent national school walk-out over gun violence and the associated youth power movement that continues to grow and strengthen.)

    1. On March 14, we got people’s attention in a way that I did not expect us to. Marching down the street in the middle of a crowd of students from across our district was beyond empowering, and I had never felt so much connection with students from other schools in our district. We made people listen to us, which means a lot to me because I am used to not being heard. I think a lot of youth share the experience of being accustomed to not being heard. This experience was different. We were listened to. We stopped traffic and we made the people in power listen. I have never been prouder of my identity as a student, and as a member of the youth power movement.

    2. As a student, there are many things that I don’t have a choice in, but that is changing. It is easy to feel helpless about the state of our government and how they are not taking measures to protect students. There are school shootings almost every day, and nothing is being done about it. I am currently not able to vote and to change legislation the conventional way, but a new way has appeared and allows students to make a change themselves. On Wednesday, March 14th, there was a school wide walkout to protest the lack of gun control. I am privileged to reside in San Francisco where this type of protest is accepted and even embraced. Ruth Asawa SOTA not only supported its students’ decisions, but it also held many different small performances to raise awareness of the importance of this issue. There were songs and poems read aloud, and we had a moment of silence to honor students killed during school shootings. Even before participating in the walkout, I felt a sense of community and solidarity with my fellow students as we all stood against gun violence. Every student and person who helped to make this event possible is changing our country and that makes me believe in our future. I am no longer powerless.

    3. The recent protest was a watershed experience that showed our generation’s dedication toward making change and taking action to right the wrongs we see in our country today. This particular walkout was peaceful, but loud enough to draw needed attention from those who would silence us. In the future, we could use what we learned from this walkout to make future demonstrations more focused and effective. Many people say that this generation will be the one that actually makes a change in this country. Hopefully, those who participated in this movement will always remain a participant in political and community engagement.

    4. Students of the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) held a district-wide walkout against gun violence in the light of the recent school shooting in Florida. Students walked out at 10 am. At the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, students from the Vocal and Spoken Word departments displayed their views through musical performances. The in-term Mayor Mark Farrell came out to show support. Newscasters and students documented the moving display of emotion surrounding the issue of gun control/violence. Students then marched from the campus, downtown to City Hall with signs, shouting and chanting so that their voices may be heard through the havoc of the city. The unification of students, and the ability to form a cohesive voice that embodied the struggle of the younger generations, was a force to be reckoned with. I’m trying to think of more things to write … civil disobedience, civil action. The idea that some schools threatened to suspend students for walking out only seemed to fuel the drive of the students to act on their views, regardless of the consequences.

    5. In San Francisco, School of the Arts seniors wrote a gun violence proclamation for the SFUSD. A proclamation is similar to a non-action resolution because it doesn’t formulate actual policy. The proclamation was a formal statement that the whole of SFUSD urges students to lobby legislators and mobilize political actions. They also included that the administration will ensure that concerns regarding students who show “warning signs” will be seriously regarded. The proclamation was unanimously passed by the Board of Education during the recent March 15th meeting.

    In Sacramento, Women’s March Oakland and Women’s March Sacramento supplied charter buses for students from Ruth Asawa School of the Arts and Academy SF at McAteer to be lobbyists in training. They were able to attend a rally about the issues of gun control against Congress and the NRA, while at the same time showing their respects to those who died in the Florida mass shooting. Then they attended a legislative training session to learn how to express their ideas, while at the same time remaining respectful when they go to the Capitol building to discuss what changes they want to see made by the legislature, and to represent the voices of youth who need their voices to be heard. During their visit to the Capitol building, all of the students were able to talk to an assemblymember or senator who was willing to discuss further political action. Many had a conversation with Assemblymember David Chiu, who was also a District Supervisor of San Francisco.

    The legislative action that was taken by students in both San Francisco and Sacramento shows that students are continuously fighting for political change, and are actively participating in legislation and lawmaking. While students walk the streets of their cities, sporting handmade signs and chanting, some students are working behinds the scenes on the political side of the issue. It is the perfect combination of both that ignites the spark of political change.

    6. While online during the night of March 14th, I saw several posts debating the worth of a walkout. High school students from all over the United States were weighing in on an issue that they were on the frontlines of. I live in the Bay Area, a place well known for its left-wing political activism. The walkout at my school received intense media coverage and even direct government support—police officers were specifically assigned to public transit and our school for protection. Those online voiced different experiences. A number of the kids described their apathy to the event and their disdain for those who had participated, claiming that walkouts were foolish and pointless. A number of others grew defensive, but were clearly stifled in their responses, often replying that they were not walking out for gun control, which was largely what the events in the Bay Area consisted of, but in solidarity for those who were slain in the Parkland shooting.

    The point is, being at the walkout—regardless of its immeasurable impact, the media coverage, the political support of the government and the stopped cars—was exciting and felt important because of the smiling faces of those around me. Let us not debate what has happened, but what we can do to change the future.

    7. I’m an artist, and the way I express my thoughts and my opinions is through art. In regard to the gun violence movement, the most powerful protests I’ve seen are through art. It is through artists that we as a society can connect to a movement, or an idea, or a perspective. So, this is a call to action.

    For the past eight months, I was working on a play about gun violence. Loosely based on Antigone, the play told the story of a school shooting, and how the family of the perpetrator responded and felt about one of their own committing such a horrific act of violence. Every week of rehearsal, it seemed as though there was a new shooting to honor. A week before we opened, a student brought a gun on campus. We closed four days before Parkland.

    Since the gun control movement’s eruption, I keep bringing myself back to that play. A large theme of The Burials is how everyone possesses humanity. As an actor, I am obligated to find humanity. At the walkout, I witnessed nothing but humanity. It is our humanness that allows us to commit such horrible acts of violence. But it is that same humanness that allows us to respond. I want people to see that humanness. I feel nothing but pain for the students and children who went through the Parkland shooting. But a part of me feels pain for Nicolas Cruz as well—how much pain must he have been in to commit such a horrific mass murder. How much rage was he carrying?

    Perhaps it was cold, calculated and predetermined. I do not want to sympathize with Cruz. I do not think that we as a society should hold him to less scrutiny. He carries hate with him, hate so extreme it led him to take the lives of seventeen innocent people, but I do not want to forget about his humanity: that underneath the racism, the homophobia, and the rage, there is a soft underbelly; a soft underbelly that we all possess.

    8. I was sick the day of the walkouts. Instead of marching with my peers, I listlessly switched from my bed to the couch and back again. However, I kept up with the news online. I saw kids on the other side of the country pushing through heavy gates to use their voices, kids marching on Market Street, and I read about kids getting locked into their schools so that they wouldn’t be able to leave. I saw my friends’ angry faces in SFGate, heard the cheers streaming out of my phone, and felt the winds of change blowing over the United States. I could not be prouder.

    9. Conservatives believe that the student protests are pointless and that the youth have no power in government decisions. Many conservative news channels have been skeptical of the student walkout and if it truly is an independent youth-led event.

    On CNN, a representative of the Trump administration made the accusation that the protests were organized by George Soros and Michael Bloomberg. This shows the shamelessness and desperation of public officials, in which they are reduced to clowns spouting baseless conspiracy theories. If anyone says that certain protest movements are funded by Soros or Bloomberg, they are using the red herring tactic to divert the conversation, as well as anti-Semitic dog whistles.
    Another argument is that we, the youth, are too immature and inexperienced to be leading protest movements. Bear in mind that most great protest movements have had students and other youth activists working tirelessly. This generation of teenagers is privileged with high-tech devices, which allow us to perform extensive research and to voice our opinions on politics. We are more connected and capable of organizing people together than any generation before us. The conservatives shouldn’t be ignorant to the plights expressed by young voices, because we are more powerful now than we have ever been.

    10. On Wednesday, March 14, an organized walkout took place throughout the United States. Here in San Francisco, at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, taking action was encouraged. In our first period classes, our principal and vice principal came in and informed us of what was to happen. At 10 am, students could walk out of their classes and into our quad. Throughout the day, there was an energetic buzz. Everyone was prepared to leave. In our third period class, there were only seven students, all of whom left when ten o’clock rolled around.

    We all filed outside. Teachers joined students in action. The mayor even showed up at our school and cheered us on, and classrooms sat totally empty for the rest of the day. There was a real sense of community among our peers, with an incredible show of solidarity through performances and speeches by many different students. It felt as though the action being taken was not only supported, but also encouraged. We received no punishment for these actions, besides one trivial unexcused absence on our report card, and were rewarded with the uplifting feeling that comes with uniting so many students.

    During this period of taking action and speaking up for ourselves, the students in San Francisco and the wider Bay Area need to remember that we live in a bubble. In other parts of the country, students who walked out had very different experiences than us. At Park Hill High School in Kansas City, students were barred from returning to class after the walkout and were punished with detentions. At North Oldham County High School in Goshen, Kentucky, more than 100 students who walked out were also punished. There were schools where students had to break down the gates to walk out, and schools where only one or two students took action, facing judgment from their peers and punishment from the administration.

    In our bubble, we need to remember that the situations elsewhere are less supportive, and that we need to offer our support to those who are in such places. Along with standing up and speaking out for our rights, we need to reach out to others who are doing the same in more hostile areas, and to spread our solidarity.

    For more information about the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts, please visit http://www.sfsota.org/