Monday, March 27, 2006

Walking Out On Their Futures? Student Protest Redux

A couple of days ago, we took a look at last Friday's student walkout in Los Angeles.

It turns out that Friday was just the warmup. Today, several thousand students around the country left their classrooms in order to take to the streets to protest proposed changes in the country's immigration laws. Some students walked-out with the tacit cooperation of teachers and school administrators:
Tens of thousands of students walked out of school in California and other states Monday, waving flags and chanting slogans in a second week of protests against legislation to crack down on illegal immigrants.

In Washington, 100 demonstrators wore handcuffs at the Capitol to protest a bill that would make it a felony to be in this country illegally and would make it crime to dispense aid to the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants.

Immigrant supporters also object to legislation that would also impose new penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants and would build fences along part of the U.S.-Mexican border. (Full story)

More than 500,000 people gathered in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, and tens of thousands rallied in Phoenix and Milwaukee last week.

On Monday, California's Cesar Chavez Day, at least 8,500 students marched out of eight Los Angeles-area schools, including the San Fernando Valley and the wealthy coastal enclave of Pacific Palisades, said Monica Carazo, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles school district.

By midmorning, the protests had spread to downtown, where hundreds of students walked the streets and chanted. The boycott had the tacit approval of school officials in some of the heavily Hispanic downtown schools, where word was passed through hall posters and public address systems.

In some areas, teachers and administrators walked with students "as a safety measure," Carazo said.

A few schools chose to bar their doors to prevent walkouts. Officials at Huntington Park High School locked the gates after classes started, but the students climbed over a chain-link fence and joined marchers in their heavily immigrant community.

Police went on a citywide alert, but no major confrontations reported.

Hundreds of teenagers also walked out of several high schools in Dallas and headed for a rally at a park, some carrying Mexican flags and others posters calling for Congress to recognize immigrant rights.

In Detroit, protesters waving Mexican flags marched from the southwest side of the city where many Hispanics live toward a federal building downtown.

"We are illegal immigrants if you trace our heritage all the way back, but we are here and we are working and we are living the American dream," said Janet Padron, a 22-year-old Allen Park resident.

"Do you see the community?" Padron asked, pointing to the thousands of people around her. "Do you see how many people didn't go to work today?"
While I was still on campus working in my classroom late this afternoon, I had the television tuned to the one channel that our adminstration allows to be piped into the classroom: CNN.

At about 2:45 PM, they had live coverage of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's speech to the student protestors. (I actually saw one high school-age student literally wrap himself in the Mexican flag.) A sympathetic Villaraigosa acknowledged the students' concerns and asked them to return to the classroom.

The mayor was shouted-down with chants of "Hell no, we won't go!"

Even though I don't doubt for a moment that a significant number of students were involved because they are truly concerned about illegal immigration, I wonder how many of the students who participated in the walkout did so primarily because it was an easy opportunity to defy authority and "liven-up" what they see as just another routine school day.
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