NYC students walk out against Trump’s ban

February 14, 2017

Jonah ben Avraham reports from New York City on a diverse walkout by high school students who came together to protest Donald Trump's anti-immigrant assault.

THE GATHERING outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office on February 7 was, in many respects, a familiar scene to New Yorkers after weeks of mass public resistance to the Trump administration's reactionary agenda.

A multiracial crowd of hundreds shouted and danced to the words, "No ban, no registry, say no to white supremacy!" as they protested the Islamophobic and racist bigotry of Trump's White House.

What made this demonstration different, however, was its remarkably young participants. It was hardly the usual activist crowd rallying in downtown Manhattan, but rather hundreds of high school students who walked out of their classes to show the world that they would not sit idly by as the new president targeted their Muslim peers and families.

"I'm here to stand up and support my heritage, and show people that I'm proud of family comes from," said 17-year-old Yusef from Queens. "Both my parents immigrated from Egypt in 1998, and I'm here to show matter what racism, bigotry, xenophobia, Islamophobia, no matter what sexism plagues our country, we will still stand united."

New York City high school students stage a mass walkout to protest Trump's Muslim ban
New York City high school students stage a mass walkout to protest Trump's Muslim ban

Many who took part in the walkout had stories to tell like Yusef's. They came from all over the five boroughs to proclaim their solidarity with the growing list of people targeted by Trump's hatred.

"I'm mad," ninth-grader and London native Elsie told me. "Me and my friends...are not okay with what Trump is doing and what he's validating. Other people are feeling like now it's okay to voice these awful opinions and make people leave our country...and we decided that doing nothing is not an option."

Elsie's resolve to resist the Trump administration's attacks--from the notorious "Muslim ban," to the construction of a border wall, to the appointment of Betsy DeVos, a right-wing billionaire who openly seeks to destroy public education in America--was shared by every student on the streets.

"[Students] should the forefront of the resistance," 17-year-old organizer Hebh Jamal told me. "We need to be here, and we need to make our voices heard."

MANY ON the right attempted to use the protesters' age against them.

From the various schools that locked students inside their classes to prevent them from protesting; to the right-wing news outlets that covered the story with headlines like "NYC high school students skip class to protest Trump"; to the Trump supporters who felt emboldened to heckle and insult the students from behind an NYPD barricade watched by dozens of cops; the students who dared to disrupt their normal school day to stand up for oppressed people had to fight that much harder to be heard.

But as John, a student at New York's Beacon High School, told me: "If you know something is right, you should fight for it. If you see these new policies, especially the Muslim ban, as something that's wrong and...goes against what Americans believe in, then you should have a voice and a fight."

In many ways, this action embodied the politics that the anti-Trump movement needs in order to pose a real challenge to Trump's regime.

These students demonstrated an understanding of the power they can wield when people from diverse backgrounds get organized and demand a future different from the one that the people at the top have planned.

"The challenge is getting several narratives and several struggles together," Beacon High School senior Donaldo Reyes told me. "Over the course of organizing this, it's been clear that everyone doesn't like [Trump], but everyone has a different struggle."

Yet at the heart of this walkout was a profound sense that each of these struggles was stronger when fought together.

"We need to unite so we can be stronger against the racism," said Shane, an NYC iSchool student. "We're out here to fight for a common cause."

With no end in sight to the slew of right-wing attacks that have dominated the news since Inauguration Day, this lesson is more crucial than ever.

The masses of people being targeted by Trump have a common cause, a common enemy--and the only chance we have of defending ourselves is through joining together to collectively resist him and his administration at every turn.

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