Why I joined a high school walkout
AS I WALKED slowly into the hall after the second-hour bell at Minneapolis Southwest High School in January, I thought to myself, “I’ve never done anything like this.”
“What if something goes wrong? What if the authorities come? What if something happens to us?”
I walked down the stairs, and I thought to myself, “I can’t let fear overtake me.” I went toward the front desk, stunned to see other students gathering for the walkout.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” one of my closest friends asked me.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” I repeated her question.
But when I looked around, I realized at this moment, we had to do this.
I knew Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportation raids, which were then recently initiated by the Obama administration to deport undocumented Central American immigrants, including families and minors, needed to be stopped.
The Obama-led government has deported more illegal immigrants—more than 2 million, one report says—than any other president, data and reports show. According to a Star Tribune article in January, immigration authorities in St. Paul, who oversee this state and four others, deported more than 1,730 people in the past fiscal year, about 80 percent of whom had a criminal conviction.
“People need to realize that the women and children fleeing their home countries are doing so because of violence,” Samantha Morales, a senior at Minneapolis Washburn who helped organize the event, later told me. “... People need to try to fully understand the effect that the deportations are causing, because they are mental, emotional and physical damage to the people affected directly and indirectly.”
I wanted to stop the raids, the deportations, the families that were going to be broken and the children that were going to be left behind. I knew I needed to join the walkout.
So, on Jan. 20, I walked out.
As I left school with the other 40 students, who were linked together arm by arm and chanting “Not one more,” an overflowing sense of empowerment overcame me. I couldn’t believe that I had walked out of school and that this was actually happening. We were creating history.
We walked to Washburn High School, where we met with dozens of other students. It was a cold mid-January day and I couldn’t feel my feet, but I was willing to stand by and endure the temperature to oppose the acts ICE was taking against the Latinx (a gender-neutral modifier for “Latino,” which is masculine) community. My community.
When I saw the crowd of a couple hundred students, I was stunned. A mix of high school students from all over the Twin Cities area came by bus, and some walked with their bare feet to participate in the walkout.
“We decided to take action because we realized that what was and is happening affects the Latino community as a whole,” Morales later said. “... We decided to have other high schools walk out because we realized that it also affects students, both undocumented as well as documented.”
All my worries disappeared the closer we got to Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Minneapolis. I was surrounded by Latinx youth who wanted to voice their opinion against the raids. I felt a sense of pride that for once, the Latinx youth were taking a stand, and others were there to support us.
But not everyone supported what we did, what I did. My teacher was one of them.
“Where were you yesterday, Melisa?” my teacher asked during class the next day.
“I walked out,” I replied, knowing my teacher knew where I was.
“Why did you walkout?”
“I felt the need to walk out, I—” But before I had the chance to express myself, I was cut off.
“You should have stayed in school, getting your education instead of walking out. Do you really think anything is going to change with what was done yesterday?” my teacher asked.
The words coming out of my teacher’s mouth stumped me. I was in disbelief. I did not want to hear what my teacher had to say. Words of discouragement were all I heard. I wanted to get up and leave the classroom.
I knew that the walkout was more than walking out of school. It was more than education within the classroom—it was going beyond what is being taught within the classroom by educating others and bringing awareness to an issue that is impacting children, families and an entire community.
An issue that everyone should know and be fully aware of.
I understood that walking out may not have created quick change, but I knew that we brought attention to the media, and the folks around us, who saw us walking out of school, likely wondered what exactly these young Latinx and other students were protesting about.
Through that tough decision that I had to make that day, I came to realize that as young people, change isn’t always going to come quickly. But sometimes, we need to put ourselves in those situations and try.
Trying is better than nothing. Trying is taking one step toward creating change.