I write this just 15 hours before students from schools across the city of Providence (and some neighboring communities) plan to walk out of their classes in protest of the policies being promoted by soon-to-be President Trump. I write this as an adult ally who has responded to youth leaders' call for support and who will be working to support young people tomorrow as they exercise their Constitutional right to free speech. While the superintendent of schools in Providence seems to understand that students have the right to free speech, some overzealous and self-righteous adults can't seem to understand why young people might feel compelled to express their sense of injustice by walking out of school at the moment Donald Trump becomes their country's president.
Ostensibly, youth attend school in order to learn. Yet, what happens when students feel compelled to teach? Sadly, not enough spaces inside schools recognize the leadership that young people have to offer and the lessons they have to teach us. Too often (and even then, not enough) young people can only find spaces in which they are treated and understood as full human beings--capable of independent thought, innovative ideas, and unconstrained agency--outside of school through organizations such as the Providence Student Union, Youth In Action, and PrYSM. That youth leaders nurtured by these organizations have come together to work with their peers in order to educate the rest of us about free speech, youth rights, and democratic accountability is no surprise.
Tomorrow, a President who high school youth had no electoral power in selecting will take office. This absurd reality is our (adults) fault, not theirs (youth). Grown men and women put Donald Trump at the helm of this country. Ladies and gentlemen (more the gentlemen), it is we who have fucked this up. And don't think because you didn't vote for Trump that you're off the hook because in some way or another we've contributed to the conditions that enabled his election. Instead of pretending that I know what young people should do in response to the inauguration of a President who has spewed and sparked hateful and harmful rhetoric toward them, their families, and their communities, I will be out there tomorrow in order to learn. Young people have been leading in Providence for years and have built a culture of accountability to their interests in ways that many other places see as a model. Our civic and community leaders often celebrate this leadership and it is my hope that they (and we) recognize it tomorrow during the youth-led school walkout. I don't know what the pedagogy of walking out is yet, but tomorrow I will seek to find out more about what it might be. The young people of Providence have something to say. We'd better listen. They have something to teach. We'd better learn.