Feeding on solidarity and opposition, student activists galvanize ahead of Saturday’s march

Feeding on solidarity and opposition, student activists galvanize ahead of Saturday’s march

Students convene with organizers at the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center to plan for March for Our Lives.

At the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center on Wednesday, March 21, a group of high school students listened with wide eyes as the seasoned protestors explained the many scenarios that can arise during a march, and offered tips on how to respond.

Hecklers: don’t engage.

Persistent hecklers: form a barrier between heckler and marchers.

Violent hecklers: call for the police.

They gave them hand signals for “slow down,” “obstruction ahead” and “get off the sidewalk.”

The Churchill High School student who has taken the lead organizing the school’s participation in the March for Our Lives event on this weekend (I am granting the student’s request for anonymity, because…I can) said the meeting was eye-opening. It showed the ten or so other students gathered how much work it is to move masses of people down city streets without incident.

The students are planning a “die-in” for the end of the march, when they reach Alamo Plaza. They will lie on the ground for a set amount of time to represent the students killed by gun violence in schools. The event was spurred by the most recent mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Highschool in Parkland, Fla. Students from that high school have incited student protests across the country. 

An activist can be born of opposition just as easily as they can through solidarity. As adults debate whether to support, oppose, ignore, or give way to the protests, the students are tempering.

March For Our Lives events will be held in many cities on March 24. A first round of school walkouts took place on March 14 (some San Antonio students walked out on March 9th, as the 14th fell on Spring Break).

A second round of walkouts is planned for April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado. Churchill has registered its walkout with a national organizing group. That doesn’t mean that the activity is authorized. North East ISD has issued a statement that students walking out faced the usual consequences for an unexcused absence. District spokeswoman Aubrey Chancellor did say that the district would not stop students from leaving.

Some NEISD campuses have also prohibited students from meeting on school grounds to organize for March for Our Lives. Most of the students at the Esperanza Center were from NEISD schools. Like water, students are finding the cracks in the district container.

At Churchill, the student organizer knows that student activists could face academic consequences, or even suspension associated with unexcused absence on April 20.

Watching students face similar opposition across the country didn’t scare the organizer.

“They’re doing this to shut us down, but they’re just feeding the fire more and making us more independent,” the student organizer said.

Students in Upper Bucks County received detention for walking out of Pennridge High School, and seized the opportunity for a second protest, locking arms and sitting quietly on the floor of their detention room, wearing placards with the names of the Parkland victims.

“I’m so excited that students are using these messed up opportunities,” the organizer said.

Meanwhile, some school leaders are seizing the moment for a civics lesson. 

At Young Women’s Leadership Academy and Travis Early College High School in San Antonio ISD, students are taking their protest up a notch. Up to Austin, in fact. Ruby Polanco, Nicole DeLuna, Citlalli Rivera, Lola Sánchez, Thalia Revilla, and Amaris Dimas from YWLA are joining forces with Mireya Sotelo and G’Von Morton from Travis to coordinate a group of students who will attend a meeting with staff from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s office.

They plan to make their case for raising the age limit for gun purchase, stronger background checks, and increased school security through additional funding for district police. The meeting will take place on April 20 against the backdrop of student walk-outs across the country.

The SAISD students are also organizing a letter-writing campaign.

YWLA Principal Delia McLerran made the call to get the meeting, Polanco said.

This is not Polanco’s first political fight. The high school senior created a petition that led to the inclusion of gender identity and sexual orientation in the district’s non-discrimination policy. The motion, supported unanimously by the board, drew heavy protest from religious groups. Like Pennridge students and North East ISD students, the opposition only propelled Polanco forward, who became defiant when faced with accusations that she was confused, a tool of liberal interests in the district.

“I am not confused,” Polanco told the Rivard Report in September 2017.

Ruby Polanco against a backdrop of protestors outside an SAISD board meeting in September.

While Polanco and her classmates are taking a visible place in the fight, the Churchill organizer’s anonymity is strategic. On a more conservative campus, the organizer anticipates opposition, and wants to make sure it’s about the ideas, and doesn’t get personal. However, the student does plan to use the lessons of the walkouts to inform future activism on the next issue that “Congress is messing around with.”

“Getting into this walkout, going to the March For Our Lives meetings have basically given me connections,” the student organizer said.

And with that, an activist is born.

Students who want to get involved with the YWLA and Travis efforts can get in touch with organizers at ywlastuco18@gmail.com.

March For Our Lives San Antonio begins March 24 at noon at 100 Military Plaza.

Adults interested in serving as “peacekeepers” for the march should wear white bandanas around their arms, and contact the Esperanza Center for more information.

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