Our students will keep marching

Our students will keep marching
© Greg Nash

I’m not going to lie. When the kids came to my classroom and said, “We really want to go to DC!” the grownup cynic in me thought, there’s just no way. With the money, the bus and the permission slips needed, it was way too idealistic. But the kids were on fire, starting to sense that they’re being heard. In my whole career, I had never seen anything this dramatic. Their energy has recharged me as a teacher.

Once they made their decision, they sprang into action as only young folks really can. They figured out who they would try to get on the bus, who was better off staying local for the New York City march, who should talk to the administration, and who should put together the Go Fund Me page. By the next day, they came to me with a plan and asked me to help find a bus.

I honestly couldn’t believe we’d gotten there so fast. The Parkland shooting was just a month earlier, but our kids alone had organized a massive, orderly walkout on March 14. We have four different schools in our building, but we rarely talked to each other. The kids broke down the barriers that we couldn’t. They met together and decided the rules. It would last 17 minutes in honor of the 17 victims of the Parkland shooting. They didn’t want anyone late, or to cut school, and everyone had to be back.

Some of the student leaders were getting social media heat from the cynics. I worried that their skins might not be thick enough. But that day, 500 kids walked out and around the block. Even elementary school students walked around the block with their teachers. “Their pride was justified. Nothing like that had ever happened in the school. Only two students came back late and suddenly kids from all the schools were meeting in my room.

I was still wondering how I was going to get the bus, since we still didn’t have enough money. I decided to write to my union, the American Federation of Teachers, which I knew was in Washington. I went right to the top and emailed Randi Weingarten directly. I said we raised a lot of money but not enough for the bus and asked for help. About 10 seconds later, I couldn't believe it, but she answered.

The next thing I knew, we had a bus and I’m making permission slips for 41 kids to get on board at 3:30 a.m. that Saturday. I helped, but except for the permission slips and the email to the union, students ran the operation. Two of them spent hours routing group Uber rides to every kid’s house all over the city. Another figured out how to get us doughnuts from an all-night shop.

At the rally itself, the students felt the power of their own unified voices. It’s inspiring for us to see them inspired by their own power. It was also great for our kids, mostly kids of color, to see that a cause, in this case school safety, can cross over economic, social, class and racial lines. The students were moved. Lots of our kids have learned to hide their emotions. But during the speeches when I sneaked looks, I saw that many of them were dabbing at their eyes and showing vulnerability that they don’t share very often.

Moreover, they are newly excited about politics. On the bus, one student was talking about voter registration with the freshmen. This student hung on her words as if she was Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaObama: Cummings showed us 'the importance of checks and balances' Poll shows Michelle Obama would lead in New Hampshire if she entered 2020 Democratic race Obamas' first Netflix project nominated for Critics' Choice Documentary Awards MORE. Voting didn’t used to be cool in our school. But now, instead of dumping on voting as a waste of time, kids are texting me, “How many votes would it take to get rid of this NRA-backed candidate? How would we do it?”

Along with another school, we’re linking seniors to get as many possible registered before the midterms. Thanks to these kids our campus is coming together on a local level like never before. The march in Washington wasn’t an easy day. It wasn’t meant to be as the sun burned and feet swelled. But we had plenty of leftover doughnuts for the ride home. When I checked my phone the next morning, there was a text asking when we could meet to talk about Stephon Clark.

Lauren Davenport is a teacher at the Urban Assembly Gateway School for Technology and a member of the American Federation of Teachers.