Dont just sit by, participate actively

But be prepared for the consequences

Historically, nothing constitutes American citizenship more than the extraordinary ability to protest. The importance of active participation in advocating for change is paramount, and Americans have seemingly never failed to deliver — but that is not to say there is no room for improvement.

The Fairfax schools in Virginia are estimated to be the first district in the nation to adopt allotting time off for student protest. Activities permitted include marches, sit-ins and trips to Richmond legislators’ offices. This is founded in a belief that aiding student activism will serve as a better way to handle the newfound waves of youth protests and to support students in their growing political activism. 

This leaves us with a question.  Will this groundbreaking action drive the rest of our nation to follow? 

Nationwide, schools are allowed to discipline students for missing school if it is for the purpose of protesting. However, the punishment for missing school to protest is not allowed to be any harsher than the school’s typical disciplinary action. Additionally, suspension is not a permitted disciplinary method for tardiness, truancy or other absences from school, unless all other methods have proved ineffective.

But while we appreciate Fairfax school district supporting the budding activism of students, we feel that there are different, perhaps more hands-off approaches to the situation. As students, we appreciate the support, but we are willing to make a sacrifice for what we believe in. As a matter of fact, that is actually the point.

If people decide to protest solely because they are given a certain allotment of time in a day to do so, then they are not protesting purely because they want to speak up — no matter the cost. They are protesting only when they are told it is okay to do so.

As students and citizens, it is our job to speak up when we believe something needs changing. However, this should be an action taken of the student’s own accord, not because the school decides to allot time to take action. If students only protest during allocated time outlined by any school’s administration, the entire concept of protesting is negated.

The idea of protesting hinges on the possibility of consequences. If that possibility is taken away in favor of assigning time for protesting, then the impact of a sacrifice for the greater good is taken away as well.

On March 15, 2019, over 1 million strikers from around 125 countries organized around 2,200 different school protests in order to fight for action against climate change. #FridaysForFuture has gained momentum, encouraging students to walk out of school every Friday to advocate for this cause.

The Fridays for Future movement was in part so successful because of Greta Thunberg’s willingness to stand up for her beliefs, even if it came at the expense of her academic record.

Thunberg chose to risk facing repercussions as a result of missing school in order to protest the dismissal of climate change. The true power of her protest resonated in her willingness to sacrifice portions of her own education for a cause which she believes to be the greater good.

In 2018, after the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, a walkout was held here at OPHS. Time was allotted — encouraged, even — for students to leave their classes and support the push for stricter gun regulation.

While it was much appreciated that the administration was so willing to support students in their eagerness to make their opinions known, the allotting of time for such a purpose somewhat detracted from its overall impact.

One moment of authentic protesting took place on campus this year when students, of their own accord, walked out of class as part of the worldwide #FridaysForFuture protest. This was not a part of any school-regulated activity, but rather, it came from students’ and teachers’ willingness to protest regardless of later costs.

Instead of telling students when it is/isn’t okay to be politically active, teach kids about the importance of speaking up. Let them know that their opinions matter and they should be heard, and if anyone tries to tell them otherwise, they can shout until they are acknowledged instead.

In this day and age it is crucial that we do not passively turn a blind eye, but participate and contribute to our society in decisions that will affect our future. It is necessary we demonstrate that we as a generation are not afraid to protest and advocate for our beliefs — whatever the cost may be.