Teenagehood is a complex time of self-discovery, growth, and realization, but with those changes comes the distinct ability to begin to think and question for yourself. To internalize what you learn and figure out how it applies to the real world is truly what you learn in high school, so when thousands of students worldwide walk out of school, it is a symbol that they have begun to learn.
Student mobilization has existed in the U.S and around the world for decades, notably the Howard and Fisk walkouts in the 20s, the Vietnam protests in the 60s, and now with gun control and climate justice. In 2019, student mobilization has proven itself inevitable. With the use of social media, a post with a time and meeting spot is spread through grades, schools, states, and countries within days. Turnouts range from small gatherings to tens of thousands of kids, this, however, does not occur without criticism. Claims of lack of intelligence or understanding of topics are common, and blatant disregard of fact based on age are see-through in the words of scared politicians. Activists like Greta Thunberg and Emma Gonzalez are, in fact, well informed and articulate with almost impregnable speeches and interviews. The other criticism is more complicated though, which is what does missing half a day of classes do for your cause? This question does not have a simple answer. There is much to say for young people to have experience in a movement and the way it will influence how they vote, and for the attention that walkouts bring to issues, but there is a type of leverage missing.
Historically, what makes strikes effective is the shutting down an industry. If workers do not come in, the product is not produced, the manufacturer cannot profit, and in consumer America that is the leverage needed for change. In this shift, the rules of power are suspended momentarily. As described by Michel Foucault and expanded upon by Dean Spade, discipline in institutions is used to exercise power through control of the individuals within groups. The social control that allows specific discipline to act as a conductor of power can be dismantled or at least changed, on a small/personal or larger scale, when the worker decides to respond with deviance. If the worker is not alone, then their response to the anomie of the reason for their strike combined with the possibility of change in power can more easily be innovation. Although the concept of innovation as a response to anomie, developed by Robert Merton, is most generally associated with criminal behavior, to shut down an institution with the goal of a higher wage or better conditions is surely a different method used to construct a different norm. It is generous to say that school walkouts partially shut down an institution for a couple of hours, especially considering the role authorities (such as school faculty) play in making sure that student activism is monitored to their liking and exists within the rules of their creation. It is for this reason that in order for the US government to take adequate action regarding climate change, we need an extended strike.
An extended strike would entail the complete dedication which exists in a large chunk of students involved already, a clear objective, and concrete events to take the place of school for three to five days. To glaze over the fact that a three to five-day strike is a privilege is to ignore the hardship that many parents have gone through to make it possible for their kids to have an education. However, the global climate emergency has reached a state that as Greta Thunberg put, demands ‘panic’. With species extinction occurring 1,000 times faster due to humans, rising sea levels and greenhouse emissions, and 12 years to limit climate change to 1.5C and ‘save the planet’, five days begin to seem like the least we can do. This is why the clear objective of the nationwide strike would be for the US to declare a nationwide climate emergency, as the UK did last month. Without a clear statement, the point of protests seems to get depoliticized and lost in publicity. Along with a clear objective, plans for events would need to be solidified. Another advantage of a longer strike is that marches and workshops can be designed for the different aspects of the climate emergency, such as environmental racism affecting people of color in places from the Caribbean to the U.S, and how declaring a national emergency would help.
It is repeated over and over again that the children are the future, might I add radically so. If, as Audre Lorde puts it, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”, then we the children must dismantle. As kids, teenagers, and young people we lack the brainwash of money and capitalism, we hold a new type of power. This power being the power of unblinded truth and compassion for the future, and although it is not mentioned by Dean Spade, it might be our only hope.
The New York Times. “Voices and Pictures From the Student Walkouts: ‘We Deserve to Live Without Fear’.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 20 Apr. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/04/20/us/school-walkout-students.html?searchResultPosition=4.
Hanchett, Dakota. “Why I Didn’t Join My School’s Walkout.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 19 Mar. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/03/19/opinion/teenagers-guns-protests.html.
Damour, Lisa. “Why Demonstrating Is Good for Kids.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 12 Mar. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/03/12/well/family/why-demonstrating-is-good-for-kids.html?searchResultPosition=14.
“Chapter 3.” Security, Territory, Population Lectures at the College De France, 1977-78, by Michel Foucault et al., Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
Saul, Stephanie, and Anemona Hartocollis. “How Young Is Too Young for Protest? A National Gun-Violence Walkout Tests Schools.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 13 Mar. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/03/13/us/national-school-walkout-guns.html?searchResultPosition=10.
“Age, Race, Class, and Sex.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, by Audre Lorde, Crossing Press, 2007.