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.


Anonymous Ann / YEA said...

Much love & support to all YARG members & Bell students who chose this day to take a stand. Your voices WERE heard and you organized a disciplined, powerful action in support of immigrant rights. Hasta la victoria siempre.

April 28, 2006 1:35 PM  
Anonymous Heryka Miranda said...

You lead and we will follow!

Thank you for having the courage to take a stand for human dignity and human rights for all people.

Your action speaks volumes for those who are too afraid to speak out and take action.

"Juventud que no lucha no es juventud, tiene que atreverse."
- Hugo Chavez

One of your many fans.
-Heryka Miranda

May 01, 2006 2:08 PM  
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