[News] Week of the Walkouts

Anti-Imperialist News News at freedomarchives.org
Wed Apr 5 12:57:46 EDT 2006


April 5, 2006

Immigration Rights Battle Comes to US Schools

Week of the Walkouts


Student walkouts against anti-immigrant legislation spread across the 
country last week, setting a new fighting example in the fast-growing 
movement for immigrant rights.

The walkouts caught on quickly from city to city, with little or no 
central coordination. Everywhere, students themselves took the 
lead--a further sign of the deep-seated anger that has erupted 
against proposals by anti-immigrant politicians to brand undocumented 
workers as felons and criminalize anyone who assists them.

The desire to take a stand against this racist scapegoating was 
evident in mass marches that brought at least 1.5 million people into 
the streets across the U.S. last month. Now the school walkouts have 
opened a new front in the struggle.

The walkouts began on the Monday after the 1 million-strong march 
through Los Angeles. Southern California was the initial center of 
the demonstrations.

In LA itself, an estimated 40,000 students left school, marching 
through the streets and blocking freeways around the area. Some 
schools tried to impose a lockdown to avoid mass walkouts, but 
students defied threats of disciplinary action throughout the week. 
"[F]or the small group of students who instigated the walkouts, most 
of whom hadn't been politically active, but were well-connected on 
campus and online, it was a transformative week," the Los Angeles 
Times wrote in an analysis.

In San Diego, schools across the city were hit by the walkouts, with 
demonstrating students gathering downtown for a rally outside San 
Diego Community College. The walkouts were organized as students 
arrived for class. Demonstrators marched, chanting, through their 
schools, and then through the city to arrive downtown--some taking 
miles-long routes though their communities and even alongside freeways.

After speeches outside the college, plainclothes school district 
security guards tried to convince students to board busses and return 
to school. Some did, but most sat down on the lawn, chanting "Don't get on!"

In Escondido, just north of San Diego, high schoolers walked out of 
class and rallied in the streets. But this expression of free speech 
was met by lines of police who used pepper spray on protesters. At 
least 24 students were arrested, and a few suffered abuse at the 
hands of the cops.

The walkouts continued through the week across the Southwest. In Las 
Vegas, hundreds of students walked out of classes, according to 
activists' reports.

By midweek, media attention focused on Texas--the home not only of 
George Bush but other right-wing Republicans who are pushing the 
vicious Sensenbrenner bill.

In Dallas, students who left schools across the city came 
together--traveling by car, truck, bus and train--for a protest at 
City Hall. After rallying outside, the students flooded into the 
building to disrupt a city council meeting. Spontaneous protests took 
place in Fort Worth and other cities across the state.

In the state capital of Austin, students walked out at Del Torre High 
School--and then marched 15 miles, down a county highway and into the 
city, to rally with other students from a dozen other schools outside 
the capitol building.

The wave of walkouts reached beyond the Southwest.

For example, on the other side of the country, in the northern 
Virginia suburbs outside Washington, D.C., walkouts snowballed 
through the week, culminating March 30 in a march through Arlington, 
Va., for a 1,500-strong rally at the county courthouse. Students 
waved flags from their countries of origin. Those without flags used 
markers to spell the names of countries on their bodies.

Reports from activists said the protests were organized mostly 
through word of mouth. In many places, students relied on e-mails, 
text messaging and the myspace.com community Web site to spread the word.

"All these politic officials are trying to make their dreams come 
true by destroying ours, AND THEY WILL, unless we do something about 
it!!" read a call for a walkout in Orange County, Calif., posted on 
MySpace. The appeal convinced more than 1,500 students to leave 
classes at Garden Grove High School, according to the LA Times.

Another influence pointed out by New York Daily News columnist Juan 
Gonzales was an HBO movie called Walkout that premiered last month. 
The film depicts the 1968 school walkout by some 20,000 Chicano 
students in Los Angeles against discrimination and racism.

The walkouts had an electrifying effect on those who participated. 
"It was great to have all of us unified, and fighting for something 
we believe in," said Stephanie, a lead organizer of the protests at 
Wakefield High School in northern Virginia.

The students drew on their knowledge of past struggles, but also 
developed tactics on the spot. In LA, for example, the students who 
descended on City Hall March 27 sat in on the front steps of the building.

They also had to contend with the threatening presence of police. 
"Living in a low-income neighborhood, you just don't have a really 
good image of the police," one student told the Times. "People 
thought we were going to get arrested. But I told them: 'No. We are 
exercising our right to free speech.'"

In the aftermath of the walkouts, many schools are threatening 
students with discipline. In the north Texas town of Ennis, for 
example, as many as 130 high school and junior high students were 
suspended, which bars them from attending the prom. In Houston, a 
principal at a school where 88 percent of students are Latino was 
disciplined for flying the Mexican flag below the U.S. and Texas flags.

And Steven Graham, one of the leaders of the walkout at Stoney Point 
High School near Austin, says that police who had escorted them to 
the Thursday demonstration outside the capitol building the next day 
tackled them, forced them on a bus and returned them to school. Some 
students were given $250 citations for truancy.

Nevertheless, the protests have had a huge impact. Everywhere, the 
protesters were predominantly Latino, but Ben Miner, a high school 
junior in Austin, said he wanted to demonstrate to show solidarity 
with his Mexican and Mexican American friends. "It's racism all over 
again," he told a reporter.

Like in other cities, several teachers were at the protest in Austin 
outside the capitol to support their students. "It's pretty 
ironic--we were learning about Gandhi all this week," Lacey Glover, a 
geography teacher, told the Austin-American Statesman. "Most of my 
students either are from a Latin American country or their parents 
are, and one of the things we talk about is the need to support our 
kids. So that's why I'm here."

Cindy Beringer, Eugene Chigna, Mike Corwin, Jon Van Camp and Laura 
Woodward contributed to this report

Alan Maass is the editor of the 
<http://www.socialistworker.org/>Socialist Worker and the author of 
Case for Socialism. He can be reached at: 
<mailto:alanmaass at sbcglobal.net>alanmaass at sbcglobal.net

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