In support of the school walkouts

By Lanthorn Editorial Board | 3/15/18 2:05am

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"Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world ... would do this, it would change the earth."

The quote above, famously said by American writer William Faulkner, perfectly symbolizes the events that occurred Wednesday, March 14, as thousands of students walked out of their classrooms in a protest movement over gun violence. This demonstration came after the shooting in Parkland, Florida, where a gunman killed 17 people at a high school. 

According to The New York Times, these protests—occurring at hundreds of schools nationwide—spanned just 17 minutes. Per the same source, the first large wave of students left their classrooms at 10 a.m. Eastern time. All across the country, other students walked out at 10 a.m. in their local time zones. 

The walkouts, intended to pressure Congress to approve gun control legislation, served as a powerful way of communicating a big message. Likewise, the fact that the majority of the protesters who walked out yesterday were students should be encouraging to anyone, regardless of political position. Here was the next generation of voters and leaders exercising their First Amendment rights and engaging civically. This is something we should always encourage, regardless of our personal political positions. 

Nevertheless, many school districts responded to the nationwide demonstrations on Wednesday by threatening to punish students with citations for cutting class or even suspensions, among other punitive measures. While the majority of students who walked out obtained permission slips from their parents, the effort of school districts to intimidate students into not protesting is inherently flawed. 

There was a lot of debate leading up to the walkouts about how schools should respond. While it is understandable that schools should have some control in overseeing students' activities during school hours, the timing, in this case, was integral to the message. It is also not unreasonable for students to want to protest something as serious as gun violence by taking 17 minutes away from class time. Until students stop being shot en masse at their places of education, they should be able to protest in short but visually powerful ways such as this.

In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called on school leaders nationwide to welcome the protests and not discipline students. “Rather than seeking to silence students’ political engagement and quashing their desire for conversation, schools can approach this moment as an opportunity for learning about civic action,” the statement read.

Students who made the choice to participate in the walkouts did not do so with the intent of disrupting their educational experience. The demonstration did not require students to be absent from an entire day of school, so the severe punishments threatened by various school districts are extreme and seemingly part of an effort to stymie a particular message from being communicated.

The Wednesday walkouts should serve as an example of how to protest for a cause in an impactful and appropriate way. As a community, we need to strive to be more open-minded and supportive of all types of engagement so long as they are peaceful. If anything, we should be encouraged to see the next generation of voters, activists and adult citizens so engaged in their communities and civic activities.

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