These words were spoken in 1988 by Abbie Hoffman in his speech to the first National Student Convention at Rutgers University on February 6th, 1988, Yet, even more so, they hold true today.
Any societal change that has occurred in the history of our country has been in a large part due to the civil revolutionary tactics of our youth. Student groups comprised of young adults recognized a system that kept people in place and held people accountable if they strayed outside perceived barriers that were not created by the democratic process.
As students join together today to use their voices in a war that is on their own home ground, the war for their schools, they can look to the past to learn lessons about how to carry out several forms of civil disobedience. Groups such as the Students for a Democratic Society can provide them with an adaptable blueprint for such actions. But these students also have a new weapon, the internet. The social media tools of today provide the capacity for sharing information, news of actions, and connecting all of these students in a way that was never before available.
The civil rights revolution was, in part, made possible because of television. Visual images of what was really happening in other parts of the country made it possible for young people to actually see the racial segregation of the South and the acts of protest against the Vietnam War. The unity that other students were showing and the strong personal connection were televised as others joined the movement in their own areas.
Today, the internet and social media brings about these connections at an even faster rate. Protests can be live streamed, tweeted as they are happening, status can be updated by the minute, and images can be shared all over the web. The potential for students to join together and take back their education is enormous. The power they hold in their hands is incredible.
So what can we, as ‘responsible adults’ do to support these students? What are real responsibilities in this battle to take back our schools? The first step is to listen to the students. But listening is not merely enough. We cannot just listen and then carry their message on our own terms. Instead we must use those pathways that we have access to as adults in order to highlight the students themselves, to give them access to the outlets that will allow them to carry their own message; not to merely report about them, but to provide them with the means to communicate , in many different forms, what it is they want to say.
Columnist Mark McCarter from Alabama, recently did a piece that gave a student an outlet for her voice. In October, he had reported about a protest in Huntsville that had called for the resignation of the school superintendent, Dr. Casey Wardnyski. That original piece spurred communication with a student and prompted him to be an outlet for that student’s voice. Mark McCarter went on to spend time with the student and to use his talent to highlight that student’s message and give it a wider audience. Articles such as this one need to be shared, if only for the value that the students are speaking and they deserve to be heard.
When examining the recent revival of the student movement, as evidenced through the creation and subsequent actions of such groups as the Philadelphia Student Union that run campaigns to improve school district policies and practices; the Providence Student Union that was created to build the collective power of students across Providence to ensure youth have a real say in the decisions affecting their education; the Newark Students Union founded with the goals of protecting student rights, ensuring they receive quality education, and empowering the student voice in the political process. Students without a formal organization around which to rally have begun to organize themselves in order to fight for a voice in their own education, such as the thousands of Colorado students that walked out in refusal to take their 12th grade science and social studies tests.
It is important to recognize the power of student actions and to create a platform in which we can support and raise up their voices. Just as important, we need to be those allies that provide the pathways for these groups and other students to form alliances that will gain them support from other sectors of society.