The Power of Student Protest

Sep 5th, 2015 • Category: Featured

By YUUKI REAL, age 15,
SADIE PRICE-ELLIOTT, age 13,
and AMIA MCDONALD, age 11
Introduction by DANIELLE ARCHIBALD, IndyKids Staff

University students march to protest the Vietnam War in Ann Arbor, Michigan in September 1969. PHOTO: Wystan/Flickr
University of Michigan students march in Ann Arbor to protest the Vietnam War in September 1969. PHOTO: Wystan/Flickr

When people protest, they are expressing that they can no longer accept the way things are, often suggesting alternatives and solutions to make things better. A protest can take any shape or form, from marches, sit-ins or teach-ins to poetry, art or theater. Anyone can protest! When students and young people have organized and demanded change, the outcomes have been tremendous. The voices of youth have had a special role in creating positive changes in revolutionary movements from the 20th century through today.

1960-1968: Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, was a black youth organization that played a vital role in the Civil Rights Movement. SNCC led teach-ins, sit-ins, Freedom Rides and voter registration drives and mobilized local black communities across the United States to protest anti-black violence and injustices under Jim Crow.

1965-1966: Vietnam Student Teach-ins Changed History

During the Vietnam War, many U.S. citizens protested the war and the practice of drafting young men into the military. One method of protest was student teach-ins, public lectures on subjects of public interest. The first official teach-in was on March 11, 1965 when some of the University of Michigan’s faculty discussed ways of peacefully protesting the Vietnam War. After classes ended for the day, students stayed to learn about the war. The first Vietnam teach-in was a huge success, with more than 1,000 students. Professor Bryan Bunyan, who was a student at the University of Michigan during the teach-ins, said, “A whole different picture emerged from what we were getting from the mainstream media and government.” At the movement’s height, 120 universities across the United States were holding teach-ins. However, the method’s popularity fell as quickly as it rose. Students began to complain that teach-ins were too pro-establishment, meaning they cooperated with authorities like the university and the government. Since teach-ins were designed to protest against the government, this was perceived as a problem. By 1966, few teach-ins were being held. Despite its tapering off in the late 1960s, teach-ins are once again becoming relevant forms of peaceful protest in university settings and community forums.

1968: East Los Angeles Chicano Student Walkouts

In 1968, Chicano students in Los Angeles peacefully protested to demand adequate education and an end to the racism that they encountered in textbooks, teachers, academic advisors and administrators. PHOTO: Los Angeles Public Library
In 1968, Chicano students in Los Angeles peacefully protested to demand adequate education and an end to the racism that they encountered in textbooks, teachers, academic advisors and administrators. PHOTO: Los Angeles Public Library

In March of 1968, more than 15,000 high school students across Los Angeles walked out of school during class. Their goals were to get more Latino teachers in their schools and to change textbooks so they included Mexican-American history. Chicano students were not allowed to speak Spanish in class and were often discouraged from applying to college by guidance counselors and teachers. The dropout rate for Mexican-American students in 1967 was 60 percent. Police and school administrators tried to stop the walkout by blocking school doors and arresting many students who tried to peacefully protest, but that didn’t stop them. Reflecting back years later, Moctesuma Esparza, a Chicano student organizer in the ‘60s, told Democracy Now! “I remember people being clubbed down to the floor [by the police] because they wanted an education. The next day, we walked out again. We walked out again the next day after that. We didn’t stop for two weeks.” On March 11, 1968, the students had a chance to list their 39 demands before the Los Angeles Board of Education. Although there was not enough funding to fulfill everything the students requested, the board agreed to most of their demands.

1985-1994: Anti-Apartheid Student Protests

Student activists pressured universities and corporations to divest money from apartheid South Africa. This helped to shift the U.S. government to an anti-apartheid position which spread internationally and contributed to the successful lifting of apartheid in South Africa.

2012-Present: Black Youth Matter

Black youth activists host a teach-in on anti-black violence at the University of Washington in January 2015. PHOTO: Department of Communication University of Washington/Flickr
African-American student activists host a teach-in on anti-black violence at the University of Washington in January 2015. PHOTO: Department of Communication University of Washington/Flickr

After the murders of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tanisha Anderson, Freddie Gray and more who were unarmed and black, many youth thought it was important to take a stand against anti-black violence. A black liberation movement called #BlackLivesMatter was co-founded in 2012 by three black female activists, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, to unite black people to take a stand against injustices that attack and undermine the value of black lives. After the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, the officer responsible for Michael Brown’s death, more than 1,000 students walked out of class at Garfield High School in Seattle, WA. Through the #BlackLivesMatter movement, African-American youth have also protested racist policies, inadequate funding and unequal conditions in schools attended by black children. Jamal Jones, a teenager in Baltimore, organized a school board meeting takeover, demanding better conditions for schools in black communities. As Jones stated, “The same machine that allows for schools to close, allows for funding disparities in communities of color, is the same machine that allowed Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner to be killed. This machine is not for us, so we are organizing to get the power back to the black community.”

2014-Present: Student Debt Strikes

More than 100 students organized to refuse repayment of loans for an education that they felt did not live up to its promise. An offspring of the Occupy movement helped the students by buying and forgiving $4 million of their student loan debt. The student debt strikes have drawn mainstream attention to the issue.

Glossary of Terms:

Chicano – Chicano or Chicana is an identity that many Mexican-Americans select for themselves
Freedom Rides – the Freedom Rides were a nonviolent method of protesting the segregation of interstate bus terminals in the 1960s. Freedom riders integrated segregated buses and used “whites only” facilities like lunch counters and restrooms

Did you like this? Share it:
Tagged as: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


What new ideas does the article discuss? What did you learn that you did not know before? Why is this article interesting? How does this article make you feel? REMINDER: Please use complete sentences to clarify your ideas!

Leave a Reply