Meager Walkout Ineffective Agent of Change

Samuel Ganten, Editor

Students attempted an act of civil disobedience by walking out of classrooms on March 14 to protest mass shootings and advocate for gun control. Yet, there is a difference between the nation-wide walk out and true civil disobedience.

Gandhi is perhaps the best example of effective non-violent resistance. Gandhi used peaceful protests and hunger strikes to motivate the British Government to peacefully step down. Even when facing imprisonment he continued to resist.

In comparison, Campolindo students walked out for 17 minutes and then returned to their classes with little consequence.   If fact, for their truancy students received little more than a 15-minute talk from administrators during an after school “detention.”  Even if you buy that their actions qualified as “disobedience,” there was no real risk taken.

It was just noise.

In fact, the protest was the worst of both worlds. It was both small enough that it had minimal impact on policy, and large enough to disrupt educational time. 17 minutes of protest is something that legislators and governing officials can easily ignore, but for students, who are continually challenged to access content and learn skills within the confines of the school day, 17 minutes of protest is a significant obstacle.

Truly effective civil disobedience must be significantly disruptive to those whose attention and action is required in order to affect change. In the 1960’s, during the civil rights era, students walked out of school in places like Birmingham, Alabama to march against prejudicial laws and racist social norms.  There walkout was not negotiated with school officials in advance, and it certainly lasted longer than the length of a brunch period.  Their actions were truly disruptive and impossible to dismiss.

Huddling in the quad for 17 minutes in order for speakers to preach to their own choir is hardly a significant act. If real change is required, then real protest is needed. The walkout orchestrated on March 14 tried too hard to avoid actual disruption.  It effectively neutralized itself by attempting to by “neutral” in its message and accommodating of the school’s regular schedule.

Effective protest must subvert political structures through a strength of conviction and fortitude in the face of backlash from the establishment. During the West Virginia teacher’s strike earlier this year, educators refused to go to school and teach students for weeks because they believed they deserved better working conditions and pay, and they won.  Had they simply walked out for a few minutes of class time, change would most certainly not have occurred.

Since the objective of school policy is to create an environment that is conducive to learning, an action that involves leaving class and disrupting the educational environment is justly punishable. For the collective benefit of the student body, stopping disruption is something that is reasonable for the administration to pursue. Considering that the walkout occurred during class time with students physically leaving the classroom, it is fair to say that it is a legitimate disruption as it prevents student education.

But did the action pay off for those who want change? Hardly.  It would have served these students better to stay in class, learn, and as a result, achieve the knowledge to propel them to positions of greater social influence later in their lives.  The meager attempt at protest was nothing more than an inconvenience to themselves.

The question then shifts to whether the walkout itself, despite disrupting the school campus, is justified. Because of America’s fire arm culture and the threat that it poses to students, this issue is worth of public discourse and disruption.  While I believe that the walkout did more harm than good, I also believe that protest is the only way change will be achieved.

What was the objective of the walkout? To motivate people to vote for policies and politicians that will turn the tide against the gun culture. Unfortunately, the walkout fell far short.

I believe that if this issue is so important, the students of Campolindo should step up their civil disobedience game. Perhaps they should refuse to attend school until local and national policymakers actually generate meaningful change.

A protest is only successful if it has a measurable impact. It should not be convenient nor trendy –it requires real sacrifice.