So last Wednesday marked one month since the Parkland shooting. There were student protests all around the country. Most students walked out of class around 10am and stayed out for 17 minutes, one for each victim of the horrific incident. The reason for these protests was two-fold: the first was to honor the victims, and the second was to call for better gun control. Here’s a Washington Post article with photos from around the country, if you’re interested.
A huge part of the reason these protests got so much attention was because they were almost completely student-led and -organized. I’m so proud that our teenagers have the confidence and awareness to speak out for themselves. That bodes well for the future. And for the now.
But in the midst of these incredibly powerful student voices, there were some protesting against the protests. I don’t know about you, but I saw a lot of posts on social media, mostly from teachers and other middle-aged adults, saying “#WalkUp, not out.” Below is the image I saw shared most.
The idea of this was that, instead of leaving school and protesting, to promote a movement of friendship. #WalkUp called for ending cliques, for walking up to students who usually hang out alone, and befriending them. The idea was to end bullying and loneliness in the hopes that no one will be driven to violence because they feel ostracized.
I think a #WalkUp movement is a great idea. Befriending those that no one hangs out with is a good idea, in high school and beyond. Everyone needs friends, you know? I’ll be honest — I’m not good at this. I do not like being the one to introduce myself. But more often than not it turns out fine, and taking the extra effort to say hello and get to know someone a little bit is beneficial to the one doing the knowing and the one getting known. Nobody likes to feel unimportant, and #WalkUp would combat that.
My question is why #WalkUp had to be in competition with #WalkOut.
I mentioned above that a lot of people I saw sharing this were teachers, and I guess I can understand the reasons behind that. To an extent. Walking out involves leaving class, for one. Teachers’ time already gets eaten into with standardized testing, so every second in the classroom counts. I can understand that teachers wouldn’t want to cut that short.
I also saw some schools that forbade their students from walking physically outside for fear they would be targeted. That many students outside, with all the publicity that the protests got, could have been very dangerous. Who was to say that someone else wouldn’t try to kill the students protesting? That safety concern may have been another reason some wanted to replace walkouts with #WalkUp. (Side note: I saw a few schools that kept students inside for safety reasons but still allowed protests in the halls. Go them!)
Finally, I also saw many parents sharing #WalkUp for another reason. They didn’t want their children joining a protest just because everyone else was doing it, without being informed. I saw a transcript of a conversation on Facebook between a woman and her son. He had asked permission to join the protest, and when she realized he didn’t know what the law really said about gun control, she told him no. Which does make sense. Informed protesters are more effective ones. Uninformed protesting is just going along with the crowd.
But that still doesn’t explain why we had to replace the protests with #WalkUp. Why could they not work in tandem? Why couldn’t the students protest, make their voices heard, let the world know they are angry and tired and frustrated, and then go back into their schools and work really hard to make sure no one feels alone? Why did it have to be one or the other?
Protesting, as long as students are informed and truly invested, is a great idea. Yes, it means missing class. But it also means being active and heard. It means taking an interest in our country. It means learning about our laws, about activism. It means putting yourself out there and gaining confidence in your voice and your beliefs. It means becoming a better citizen. I see no reason why students can’t do that, and then use #WalkUp to make their schools better social environments. I think adults, myself included, need to be better about supporting our teens in their activism. Let’s not shut it out next time, yeah?