Kelly Ann Braun: The bold bravery of the March 14 Walkouts
As an education activist, I have teacher friends and connections from all states across our country. As I was home today shooing the flu away, I had a chance to really soak in an entire day’s worth of seeing student activists growing or most noticeably, newly being formed. The National swirl of Walkout activities which dually recognized the one-month mark of the Parkland shooting and served as an expression of solidarity with the student-led demands for gun law reform, were powerful, to put it mildly. I would love to elaborate on my emotions related to the students encircled around the 14 empty desks and 3 podiums with the 17 doves released, or the gong which sounded 17 soul-echoing times as students did a die-in across all 100 yards of a football field while their bodies spelled out a giant #Enough. I am so grateful for the young woman, and the young man, along with the second grader (and his mom) who walked out of each of their schools as lone voices and I am so glad that their stories are already going viral. What bold bravery.
But instead, I feel compelled to answer the 3 or 4 audacious folks I saw in a variety of media spaces asininely asking “But, what have they really done or accomplished? What have they changed?” I hardly know where to start, but I will just dive in, in no particular order, and assuredly in a raw and incomplete manner. I will say, the fact that they influenced you towards even asking such a question in the first place, lets me and others know, that they have done well to send out ripples of resistance even to the most resistant, critical, or apathetic of viewers. Sometimes the questions tell us more than the answers ever will.
As an activist, I have written ahead to a slew of news sources, made posters, and then stood or marched with hundreds of others regarding a huge crucial issue related to legislation that would affect hundreds of thousands; all done in vain to only MAYBE have one or two newspapers write up a little blurb which they sunk somewhere in the middle of the paper. These kids today, set helicopters in every major city into motion. I have yet to find a news outlet NOT COVERING IT. They are on every channel local to national and back again. Reporters and journalists are scrambling to get THE INTERVIEW or COVERAGE that they might claim an exclusive. More and more detailed stories are surfacing as the evening dawns.
These youth have AT LEAST five or six hashtags simultaneously trending on Twitter (and have been retaining top trending topics for a solid month now). We, my adult activist friends and I, have in deliberate action, held coordinated, planned tweet campaigns, and let me tell you it is harder than the old Asteroids game to keep a hashtag trending for any certain length of time. Prominent folks, with 100s of 1000s followers are commenting to the student activists by name and by their hashtags. They are seeking these youth leaders out. It is nothing for them to see 1000s of retweets on any given message in a matter of hours truly. All day today, and I am sure well into this evening as folks are arriving home, pictures of the Walkouts are dominating Twitter (and I am sure Snapchat and Instagram also). To amplify their cause in this way almost seems effortless for them. They are highly effective at drowning out so much status quo static that is out on Twitter. Their truths are evident, loud and clear.
They directly attracted and engaged local, state, and national politicians to a level that I do not think any recent movement has been able to do at such elevated numbers, in such a vast amount of places, in the same given hour or day. Senators and Representatives came out to them in DC. I have marched or protested in DC numerous times. I have lobbied on ‘the hill’. And the most we gleaned attention from were some of the legislative aides or a very few curious staff members on their lunch breaks. Can you imagine the honorable Congressman John Lewis speaking at your event? Well, he did so at their event! That fact alone should be humbling to those who question what they have accomplished.
I typed “Walkouts” in Google searchbar just now and came up with 6,490,000 results in .66 seconds. CNN, NYTimes, LATimes, MSNBC and many more are right on top with articles that are an hour or even 14 minutes old. 1000s upon 1000s upon 1000s of passionate kids’ faces are plastered all over the internet. And right along with them are scores of headlining quotes of THEIR POSTERS, THEIR WORDS, THEIR CHANTS, THEIR THOUGHTS, THEIR IDEAS, THEIR UNIQUENESS, and THEIR UNITY!
It seems districts and schools all over each had their own reactions to the appeals of the students to be able to participate. Students had to choose if they were going to comply or seat the consequences that came with some of the schools’ warnings against the students walking out. I read one post that said 100 students will have detention for their participation. Others mentioned suspensions of more than a week. One school (probably more) went on lockdown so the students could not walkout BUT those students peacefully ‘took a knee’ in the hallways. Students everywhere had to weigh out their individual stances on the matter and prioritize it despite penalties that were handed down. By the way, the ACLU is seriously examining situations in which students were severely silenced.
I am sure that many, many, many a student found themselves at odds with members in their own classrooms, schools, communities or even their own families. Those ones would have had to mentally practice their wording of why they were walking out and what it meant to them. I am an extroverted, outspoken adult and I still at times have found it difficult, dare I say downright fearful, to explain my stances on certain issues with a room full of people I absolutely love who do not agree with my point of view. It is an acquired art to be able to put controversial beliefs into words strong enough and accurately enough, without being defensive or offensive in any antagonistic crowd, but when you eat, and live with those who may not see eye to eye or flat-out oppose your views, it is extremely difficult. I can almost hear the back and forth dialog of some parents and some children as they hash out their personal differences about guns, school shootings, and now a rash of protests. Those students will not likely make the headlines, and yet they have initiated necessary conversations. They have planted seeds of thought. They are the ones I see as the overcomers. The tradition breakers. The peace takers.
Speaking of peace, these students had to seriously rein in a ton of emotions. They were tapping into huge, long-building, collective anger, fear, sadness, and now determination, and had to do it all with tremendous self-control. The media would have had a hey-day if violence broke out. It would have been a major mar in the overall message. Thus far, I have only heard of successful PEACEFUL protests the whole day long. This is a great testament to the teens and others who let them lead. The students, in this manner, garnered trust. As a mom of five (grown children), I put a high value on being able to trust my children, especially in particularly trying situations. This is where the roots and wings balance comes to fruition in parenting and yes, in teaching. These kids that walked out today, in my eyes, all passed a tremendous test. They are to be trusted with future public outcries against social ills.
To pull such events together in such a short time frame was an amazing feat. Some student protests scheduled speakers. Many did the math, prep work, and coordination to make birdseye images of enormous numbers, words, or images, and set into motion the plans for those to be photographed from the air via drone cameras, high vantage points, or hopes that helicopters would see. The students took it upon themselves to plan and relay the plans to stand in silence, to sit-in a field or bleachers, to march to a destination, to chalk around the outlines of their bodies, to wear armbands, to wear certain colors, to sing specific meaningful songs, to paint murals, to tape their mouths, or create banners, and on the lists go. Tons of students wrote to legislators, and actually made literal plans to meet today in state houses all across the United States, and managed to get to those numerous meetings in huge numbers. Again, as outgoing as I am, I still experience intimidation and nervousness in the “formal” settings of meeting with members of congress at any level, and I abhor the back and forth phone tag or emails that it takes to be able to try and schedule appointments. Some students, had to put a plan B quickly in place, as a snow day closed their school. Still they had a tremendous showing which I imagined involved quite the amount of text messages and carpooling plans. These mature youth rose above and beyond the challenges and complications that can arise when trying to pull-off something this connected on a calendar or clock, or which have such underlying serious and somber origins. It is not fun and games. It requires intelligent energy.
They will always remember March 14th, 2018. Even if they never do anything similar to this type of activism again, they will remember this day for all of their lives. It will stand out in a very impressionable corner of their minds. They now own a story to tell their children and grandchildren.
In addition to the Walkouts, and the memorial ceremonies, many took today as an opportunity to register new voters. I daresay, these participants when they realize how many more did what they did on this momentous day, are going to be empowered by numbers. My children and their peers (all 20 somethings) are horrid at making it to the polls. They insist that money buys the elections and their votes won’t change anything. I bet the graduating class of 2018 does NOT believe that after seeing how many other like-minded groups exist. They are now extremely motivated voters. There will be a historical swell of 18-year old voters this year. Those in the pockets of NRA, don’t stand a chance with them. I believe it.
We out here… especially those who dared to question what was accomplished … we all just watched history in the making. The ones who walked out … please walk on further, get even more involved; be the change that you already are.
Kelly Ann Braun
Originally published as But, What Have They Really Done?