By Phoenix Hailing
On the morning of May 1, I sat anxiously in my seat waiting every passing second seeming eternal. The substitute teacher for my class had just found out about the walkout and dedicated a portion of class time debating our reasons for protesting.
“We already have these rights!” he proclaimed. I was trying to engage him in conversation, but I found my mind constantly wandering as I awaited my departure.
The week prior I had begun disseminating flyers for the walkout, which included reasons for the protest as well as rights of students.
Not even two hours after this I was called to speak with the vice principal and dean. I was questioned and even vaguely threatened. “Disciplinary action” was the term they used. “Security has been briefed,” I was informed.
They had told me it was against the rules to disseminate my flyers on school grounds, which was entirely false (they should have read the rights of students provided by the flyers), but for the sake of ease, I smiled, nodded, and went on my way.
I can’t say for sure if I was followed or watched by security during this period, but it certainly felt that way. Unfortunately for them, those two hours were more than enough time for the flyers to reach social media, and it was the topic of conversation for many during the days before the walkout.
Now minutes before the scheduled time to walk out, I waited with complete uncertainty. I was unable to focus on anything but the analog clock on the classroom wall. I had no idea what was going to happen, how many people were actually going to join me, or how security would respond.
When the time finally came, I, without hesitation, stood up and departed despite the demands to return to my seat and my substitute’s simultaneous calling of the office and security. During my journey to the office doors, I was joined slowly but surely by fellow protesters until perhaps 20-30 fellow students were walking by my side.
Security and the dean awaited us at the doors, where we were told to wait. “The vice principal wants to talk with you guys,” he said. I knew that they were scrambling to think of anything that could prevent us from leaving.
The senior counselor had even threatened one of my peers with being prevented from walking the stage for graduation if they left school.
Meanwhile, a security guard remained with us, talking, trying to persuade us to not leave. While she had left some of my peers with second thoughts, we all held our ground.
After about ten minutes, it was not the vice president but the dean who once again addressed us. He said we were free to leave as long as we signed out with parental consent. He directed us to the attendance office and phone and stood watching over us.
I knew that this was ridiculous and that we had every right to leave on our own. I turned to the half of my peers who were already lined up and calling home and told them that they didn’t have to do this. If they didn’t feel comfortable just leaving then that was fine, but I was leaving.
I then walked out of the front doors of the school, with most of my fellow protesters following suit. The remainder of us made our way down to the May Day rally and march at Mill Creek Park to further participate in this day of resistance. There we were joined by other students who had walked out of other high schools, namely Golden Valley, as well as many others who had opted to stay home rather than walk out.
Of the many hundreds of people who turned out to rally and march, I think it’s safe to say that the young people protested with the most energy and spirit. Seeing all of them there was a promising sight to behold, and as we marched through the streets of Downtown Bakersfield, our presence was felt.
Kern County’s youth had committed a brazen act of political protest. This would surely not go unnoticed.
Witnessing my peers stand up and fight for a cause was incredible, and it gave me faith in our future generation that they would not stand idly by at the sight of injustice but that they would be a positive force for change.
Sure, perhaps the walkout numbers were underwhelming, and sure, a vast majority of students opted not to protest (and for a myriad of reasons), but the fact that dozens did is much more impactful than it may seem.
Our young people are slowly but surely realizing their political efficacy, as well as their true power and influence in this country. I do not know when Kern County will stage another walkout or protest, but I do know that as America’s youth becomes more and more politically active, their influence will be felt by our leaders and lawmakers.
I have faith that young people will continue to fight for their future and for America’s future, and I can only hope that our country’s youth will stand up, fight, and set us on a path to progress and prosperity.
Phoenix Hailing, 18, is a student at Highland High School and a South Kern Sol youth contributor.