Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Mechanics of a Walk Out

By Jose Andrade, Age 19

Photos By Ann Caton from the Youth Education Alliance (YEA)

It was a restless day at Bell Multicultural High School on April 06, 2006. It was the last day of school before Spring Break began. This was a much needed vacation after rigorous testing that students had just undergone. School administrators were anxious because they expected poor attendance on behalf of the students that day. Whenever there are week-long breaks from school it's naturally expected to have very low attendance on the day before the break begins.

To the surprise of the administrators, attendance on this day was as high as could be expected on any other day. Something was circulating in the new hallways of Bell Multicultural High School and the administrators wanted to know what it was. Little did they know that the answer would walk-out the front door later that day.

The reason the attendance was unchanged on this day is because a group of dedicated youth had taken it upon themselves to demonstrate how they felt about the current legislative heat wave around immigration reform that had been giving many Americans a burn. The name of this legislation was HR4437. To put it concisely, this bill would allow the federal government to criminalize all 11 million undocumented immigrants that currently live in the US and the people who help them.

YARG youth organizers and Bell student leaders destined this day to be the day students walked out in support of immigrants across the nation. It was the day the DREAM Act would be reintroduced to the House of Representatives. We decided to walk out just before the last period of the school day because we wanted to make sure people knew that this was not about getting out of classes.

The Mechanics behind the walk out were Margarita Juarez, Jose Lemus, Jose Funes, Judith Reyes, Oscar Calix, and me, Jose Andrade with the support of Danielle Kurzweil, Director of YARG. We decided that we should let our voices be heard in an organized and non-violent way and let our message be heard through the masses of participating youth.

"I may not be an immigrant but it is still important to help out my fellow peers. Let's just hope our voices are heard!", Margarita zealously told me when I asked why she decided to participate in the walkout. Margarita is a graduating senior with a 4.0 GPA who expects to go to college.

That was the general attitude of the 100 youth that decided to risk disciplinary action from the school administration and take their voices to the streets. Throughout the school day we had been hearing that the police had been called and that they were not going to let us leave. Some students were threatened that if they walked out they were not going to be able to graduate, would be kicked out of the Honors Society, or were not going to be able to go to the school dance.

We called Danielle from a school phone and she let us know that we had support from all over the community. Ann Caton and Jonathan Stith from the Youth Education Alliance, Marnie Brady from Neighbor's Consejo, LaDon James and Maricela Donahue from the Center for Community Change, Dana Walters from the Justice for DC Youth Coalition, Chitra Subramanian, and YARG's founder Natalie Avery came out to the school to support us and made calls and sent out emails to let people in the community know what we were about to do.

We decided to go ahead with our plan. We marched out in uniformity through the front door guided by a banner that read, "Si Se Puede" (Yes, We Can). Both administrators and teachers alike followed the youth marchers in awe, astonishment, and, for some, in unexpressed approval. We knew a lot of them supported us but couldn't officially announce it.

"I want people and the government to change the way they treat immigrants because at some point almost all Americans had parents who were they need to stop being hypocrites," yelled a student on a bullhorn as the marchers walked out into the sunshine.

The crowd of students assembled in an impenetrable mass of solidified organizing and pride. We yelled, we shouted, we walked and, most importantly, we delivered the message.

Supporting the DREAM Act and demanding that immigrants be supported in working for a better life for themselves and their families was the message, while unity and diversity was the guiding theme.

Our voices were heard. Danielle had sent out a press release, and when we reached the pavement The Washington Post (see our quotes on page two), WPFW, and several independent news sources immediately began jotting down the chants we yelled. The reporters tweezed a few students out the solidified mob for questions.

The crowd then got really motivated and expressive; we decided that we should release some of that motivation by marching around the perimeter of the school. Like a serpent smoothly bellying across open water we held our composure allowing no breaks in the march.

We demonstrated and delivered our message peacefully. We do recognize that we took a big risk and caused the faculty some uneasiness. In the end, the Bell administrators did not follow through on the threats and asked instead that we each write essays and make classroom presentations about why we did the walk out. We acknowledge and support our principal Mrs. Tukeva and the Bell faculty for the social justice work they have done over the years, however, now it is time to hand over the burdensome torch to the next generation.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Youth Action Research Group
DC Youth UNITE!!!
For a JUST Immigration Reform

Date: Monday, April 10th
Place: Malcolm X Park, 16th St and Euclid
Time: 12:00 to 3:00 Youth Rally
3:00 (SHARP!) March to the Monument
(make signs & banners, learn chants, and be interviewed for our radio show!)

Call YARG at 202-462-5767 for more information
(see flyer attached!!)

Whats up DC youth, youth workers, allies/adults who support DC young people!
We have been working hard pounding the pavement, doing presentations in our classes, talking to youth in our school lunch rooms - - inviting them to come out to a youth rally this coming Monday, April 10th ** see above for details. We met with youth from all up and down the East coast this weekend and we are coordinating our rally with youth from other cities who are organizing ACROSS THE NATION!!!

We need your help! to help get the word out. Come out to Malcolm X park on Monday, Bring your friends, and help spread the word to other DC youth and adults who believe in social justice and the rights of all human beings to work for a better life for themselves and their families.

Hundreds of thousands of people will be taking it to the streets this Monday in cities ACROSS THE NATION to protest against a hateful, racist bill currently being debated in congress (HR 4437) that if passed into law would criminalize 11 million human beings living in the US who are 'undocumented' and the organizations that help them (that means YARG!).

We are organizing to STOP these bills and to help pass JUST immigration reform, including a bill that will be reintroduced to the House of Representatives this Thursday - the DREAM Act - which would enable 65,000 students per year, who under current law are unable to go to college, to go to college and earn legal status (see attached fact sheet for more details).

As it is now, people have been living 'undocumented' in the US working hard, oftentimes doing backbreaking labor under unsafe conditions for very little pay to provide for their families because of poor economic conditions in their home countries, due in large part to US foreign policy.

Students in DC, for whom DC is our home, have been working hard in our classes to graduate from high school. We need this bill to become a law so that DC students who have earned our right to go to college will be supported in acheiving our dreams.

Danielle, Jose A., LaKeisha, Denisse, Judith, Aqiyla, Jose L., Margherita, Tim, Deja, Calix, Carlos, Nate, Stephanie, Sandra, and everyone else we don't have time to list!

Thanks for your support - see you on the streets!