By Phoenix Halling
I remember sitting in my Economics class on the morning of February 7. I remember watching C-SPAN on the projector, witnessing in real time the Senate vote on Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education, and I vividly remember Mike Pence’s smug grin as he cast the deciding vote. I remember the silence that rang throughout the classroom at that fateful moment.
We all understood the implications of what had just occurred: the public education system as we knew it was now going to face devastating changes, such as funding cuts and deregulation. At first, a sense of helplessness radiated through the classroom. After all, a millionaire who bought her way to a position of authority, who doesn’t believe in public education, who has neither a teaching credential nor an education degree of any kind, who has zero experience with the public education system, a denier of science and fact-based reality was now over 2,000 miles away influencing and executing policy that would affect all of us directly, as well as our teachers and our brothers and sisters.
I refused to allow this new reality to bring me down. I was livid, and I wanted desperately to voice my outrage at this disastrous new Education Secretary. I knew that others felt as I did and that they wanted to do the same. Therefore, the first thing that came to mind was to initiate a school-wide walkout for my peers and myself to voice our support of public education.
I wanted to do it the very next day. Perhaps I wasn’t thinking realistically, after all I had nowhere to begin: I had no social media following, no flyers, no means by which I could proliferate this aspiration of mine. I was made to realize my overly ambitious goals by a good friend of mine, who very much liked my idea and wanted to make it better and more influential. He wanted to involve the entire Kern High School District in a walkout.
Realizing that not everyone would agree with our views of DeVos, we decided to think even bigger. We wanted this to be as inclusive as possible, and to make that a reality we decided to walk out not just for public education, but to encompass a myriad of other issues facing ourselves and our peers. We were going to walk out in support of civil rights, and we wanted to include not just high schoolers, but also college students and even junior high schoolers across Kern County.
After reaching out to county organizers and sympathizers to our cause, our ambition has become a reality.
We now have flyers, social media, we have a platform, and a plan. We will be walking out of school on May 1 at 9 o’clock in the morning. Furthermore, we will be subsequently congregating at the May Day Resistance rally and march at Mill Creek Park at 10 a.m. the same morning, in order to further voice our support of civil rights and liberties for all people, as well as our outrage towards those actively seeking to take them away.
We support the right to a public education where all students have an equal opportunity to learn and receive the tools necessary to succeed and better themselves as well as their future and society as a whole. We support the right of all workers to a living wage, unionization, paid family and sick leave, benefits, and overtime pay. We support the right to vote and reject all attempts of voter suppression and disenfranchisement. We support equal rights for women in all aspects of life. We support equal rights for all immigrants and minorities, as well as a path to citizenship. We support equal rights and protections for all members of the LGBTQI community. We support the right of all people to affordable, quality healthcare. We believe in a fair and balanced system of law.
If you agree with one or more of these ideas, we strongly urge you to walk out of school with us and if you are a resident of Kern County who is not currently in school, we encourage you to join us for a rally and march in support of these ideas. To stay updated, you can follow us on Facebook at Kern County Walkout for Civil Rights, and on Twitter @KernWalkout2017.
In this day and age, now is not the time for political apathy. We can no longer rely on anyone else but ourselves to protect our right and liberties. We can no longer stand idly by as our friends and family face deportation, as our immigrant brothers and sisters face criminalization and brutality by a supposedly just system of law, as our most vulnerable face the possibility of losing their health coverage, as the rights of women, voters, workers, religious minorities, and the LGBTQI community are under attack.
It is important now more than ever that we rally our energy together and utilize it as a force for progress and change. In the now famous words of Bernie Sanders, “When we stand together, there is nothing we cannot accomplish.” What we plan to carry out on May Day may not directly impact Washington or the United States as a whole, but we as a community, as a county, can join together in solidarity to make a difference. Though we hail from various backgrounds, cultures, religious faiths or the lack thereof, though we may express varying political and world views, despite our differences, we will walk together as one.