— Kristyna Wentz-Graff (@KWGPhoto) May 19, 2016
When I heard that students at Forest Grove High School walked out last week to protest a racist, Trumpist banner (“Build a Wall”) that was briefly hung in their halls, and that other suburban high schools joined the protest with their own walkouts, I was thrilled.
This is what democracy looks like. My daughter, who attends a high school that is 28% Hispanic, reported that teachers and administrators were generally supportive of students leaving class. I told my kids, if something like this is going on, and you feel strongly about it, get up and walk out no matter what the teachers say. You don’t ask permission to stand up for human rights.
The next day, there were more protests across the metro area, and the local middle school my son attends, which is 20% Hispanic, had some kind of preemptive “protest” led by the (white) administration. An email from the principal described it:
We did have a student walk-out on Friday, the students who participated listened to administrative direction, and were thoughtful and considerate of multiple different viewpoints. The students were allowed to walk around the property, and not leave campus. The students then entered the cafeteria to participate in a conversation about the proper way to use voice, work within a system, and be an active citizen in the democratic process.
Bad grammar aside, this was not a walk-out. And “the proper way to use voice” is offensive bullshit. No oppressive system ever ended because oppressed people politely asked it to stop. There was an organic, spontaneous, metro-wide response to a direct, racist threat against a minority group that makes up a significant portion of my kids’ generation. And my son’s principal’s message is don’t break the rules.
My message to my kids: we, as privileged white people, have an obligation to stand up for and with our Hispanic friends and neighbors when they are faced with this kind of thing. We cannot allow Trumpism to stand unchallenged. And sometimes that means breaking the rules. Grownups have allowed Trumpism to get this far, and Portland’s suburban youth are standing up and walking out in response.
When high school students showed up at the middle school “protest,” somebody (ahem) called the cops. Again, from the middle school principal:
We did have roughly 50 students from another school attempt to gather our students and have them march off campus. None of our students participated and remained in class. The Beaverton Police Department called a lockout for roughly five minutes as the other school students were marching toward [a nearby elementary school], and when one of our schools goes into lock out, the other does, as we are so close. There was never any harm or danger targeted towards [redacted] Middle School or [nearby] Elementary School.
So the message is clear: it’s okay to “protest,” as long as you follow the rules. (Or, put another way: It’s not okay to protest.) According to my son, the principal was “really mad” when some students attempted to join the high school students and march off campus. Also according to my son, actually, we’re all immigrants.
The middle school “protest” debacle notwithstanding, seeing a spontaneous, widespread, multi-day protest erupt gives me hope for our future.
Check the #StandUpFG hash tag on Twitter.