I couldn't have imagined a better way to spend yesterday morning than by working to support youth leaders in Providence to take ownership of their lives, learning, and community by demonstrating their outrage and disgust with the inauguration of President Trump. While too many adults either debated whether students walking out of school was appropriate or were caught up in their "duty" to discourage this inspirational action, the Providence Student Union issued a statement to the community that beautifully lays out the loads of learning that the youth-led walkout facilitated over the past month. Please read their message below. By the end, I think the pedagogy of walking out should be made clear.
Statement regarding the January 20, 2017 Walkout
To the Providence Community:
In early January, young leaders in Providence began a healthy debate on the merits of calling for a student walkout as a display of resistance in the wake of the November election. These young leaders—many associated with Providence Student Union (PSU) and Youth in Action—had contentious and well-considered discussion: they debated the value of a walkout, its feasibility, the importance of student safety, and how young people and the community might respond. Ultimately, they issued the call for students to stand up and leave school at 11:08 AM on January 20, 2017 and to march to the State House for a youth rally.
Following students’ decision, PSU’s 3-person staff made student safety our top priority. We dedicated the majority of our staff preparations to recruiting dozens of adult volunteers; these adult allies will meet students today across from their schools and provide them with information and guidance. In addition, PSU has communicated openly with the Providence Public School Department throughout this process, with a strict focus on student safety. We also coordinated with lawyers to ensure protections for students’ First Amendment rights both before and after the action. And finally, PSU helped student leaders consider every potential outcome of the walkout—good and bad—and plan accordingly. All of this was done in partnership with our good friends at Youth in Action as well.
We also did our best to respond appropriately to a moment that became bigger than any single youth organization. Within days, students’ call to action had sparked thousands of conversations across the city and state. Young people began to debate among themselves what useful action means and looks like. Parents talked with their kids about how—or how not—to stand up to injustice. Administrators statewide brushed up on students’ First Amendment rights. Elected leaders took stances. The press elevated youth voices. Our team at PSU in particular had both warm conversations and tough debates with young people, parents, teachers, and administrators across the city. The student leaders’ walkout effort also sparked strong responses across Rhode Island outside of the education sphere, including statewide conversation about the merits of students’ walkout, the role of youth voice, and the value of protest in general.
Mostly, we watched in awe as youth made consequential decisions through a sincere democratic process.
Providence Student Union’s mission is building student power to ensure young people have a fair say in improving their education. Young people didn’t get to vote on November 8, 2016, but in debating this walkout, students participated in their own democratic process, and built student power on their own terms.
Civic engagement and protest are incredible learning experiences. We are proud of this youth-led effort, and we are excited about what the PSU team has learned and what students have and will learn from engaging in this action.
Providence Student Union