High School Students Walk Out for Bilingual Ed

Revolutionary Worker #956, May 3, 1998

San Francisco, April 22: Thousands of high school students poured out of schools around the Bay Area to protest Proposition 227--which would ban bilingual education--and other attacks on their education. At least 2,000 gathered in suburban Concord, where they marched for over an hour through the city, stopping traffic. The students then rallied outside the gleaming new $20 million Concord police station to dramatize the criminalization of their generation and the way society is spending tons of money on prisons and police, while schools literally fall apart.

The April 22 protests involved students from all over the Bay Area--San Francisco and the East Bay cities of Oakland, Berkeley, Hayward, San Leandro, Daly City, Pittsburgh, Antioch and Concord. The walkouts were organized by Voices of Struggle, a mainly Chicano student coalition.

Anger at the Whole Program

These walkouts were a courageous and inspiring call to people to resist attacks on bilingual education and other attacks coming down on youth. Students carried home-made signs saying "No on Prop 227." Students from Freemont High School made a spray-painted banner against 184 (the "3 Strikes" initiative passed in 1994), 187 (the anti-immigrant initiative passed in 1994) and 209 (the anti-affirmative action initiative passed in 1996). Other signs said "íLucha por Justicia!", "Teach My Roots So I Can Grow," "Educate Don't Separate," and "Resist 187 184." One student wearing a Mexican flag carried a sign saying "We Have the Right to Speak Our Own Language."

A young Latino man who spoke fluent English told the RW it took him at least two years to learn English. He's been in the U.S. for over eight years now, is doing well in school, and credits the bilingual programs for his success. He worries what would happen to new immigrant students without such programs.

Two white sisters, 14 and 17 years old, told the RW that their mother is a bilingual teacher who's had tremendous success over the years. The two women felt very strongly about fighting for bilingual education and said they had also participated in the struggles for Mumia and against Prop 187. They gave a big donation and got a bundle of RWs and stacks of May Day invitations to pass out.

Students who talked to the RW complained about the lack of basic school supplies, the run-down condition of their schools, and the banning of affirmative action. March organizer Gabriel Hernandez, from Voices of Struggle, told the SF Examiner, "We want funding for ethnic studies at schools. We are defending our younger brothers and sisters in the school system because with all the laws passed now, it is getting harder and harder for people of color to get an education."

Rally at the Police Station

When students arrived at the Concord police station, they were confronted by local police and sheriff's deputies--some in riot gear. But students got up in the faces of the police, calling out police brutality. And the police complained that rocks and fruit were thrown at them by some of the protesters.

Organizers had decided to march to the new Concord police station to expose how society's resources are going to the police instead of schools. As one community college student pointed out bitterly, "The state spends more money on jails than schools."

In a grass lot across from the police station, the students held a colorful rally with a big stage and sound system. Meanwhile from on top of the tall police building a few sharpshooters, some press, and administrator-types watched the rally. At one point, with a cue from the stage, the whole crowd of 2,000 raised both arms to give them a two-fisted one-finger salute!

Almost all the speakers and performers at the rally were students. There were representatives from Voices of Struggle, the Third Eye Movement, and the League of Filipino Students. Performers included Aztec dancers, a Native American dancer, and several rappers, including MC Brook Ashe, and MC Charles with both the Hip Hop Fanatics of Berkeley High School and Black Gold, which is a group drawn from the Black Studies program at BHS. There was also a rapper from MacAtier HS in San Francisco.

Many students who participated in the walkouts were excited to learn about revolutionary May First and started distributing invitations to a May Day program at Revolution Books in Berkeley. One student told the RW, "This is so beautiful, class is so boring. I'm going to come to this program and check you all out." A suburban high school teacher later called the phone number on the May First leaflet to say that students who had been at the rally brought flyers for May Day back to her class and discussed how they could participate.

A Defiant Wake Up Call
from the Youth

The protest brought together students of all nationalities, and this unity was inspiring. A Black student marched wearing an "Asian Pride" T-shirt. Organizers reported that rival gangs set aside their differences to participate. The outpouring of just struggle had a jolting effect on the political climate in the Bay Area and beyond. The owner of a beauty salon in Concord said, "This is great, that the young people are taking a stand for what they believe in." An admissions officer at UC Berkeley who was riding the BART with protesting youth said, "I think there is a problem with the planning in education... and issues regarding affirmative action." A Latina parent who honked her car horn in support of the marchers was given a ticket for "excessive, improper use of horn." Many students proudly talked about how their parents were supporting what they were doing.

A white suburban lawyer watching the march from the sidewalk said he thought the students deserve better education, affirmative action and bilingual programs and that what they were doing was great--exactly what they need to do to change things.

One organizer told the RW he was proud they had advanced from the separate school walkouts that happened to protest Proposition 187 to organizing coordinated walkouts with students converging from all over the Bay Area.

Three mainstream newspapers--the Oakland Tribune, the SF Chronicle, and the Contra Costa Times--had front-page coverage of the protest, reporting that 2,000 to 3,000 students had walked out of school. Spanish language Channel 48, Telemundo aired video from the protest.

The reactions of school officials varied. At Oakland's Castlemont High School, administrators physically blocked the door to try and stop students from joining the protest. Other school officials expressed some sympathy and even unity with the student actions. A principal in Daly City, where 200 students reportedly walked out, told the Contra Costa Times that even if Prop 227 is passed, banning bilingual education, "We would somehow have to provide opportunities for kids to learn English. We're very sympathetic to the need." And a San Francisco school spokeswoman told the SF Examiner, "The state increased jail (funding) by 10 percent last year, but the state budget for education stayed the same. We're expected to increase test scores and get students ready for college and work, but we're not spending money on education. We support the children in their dissatisfaction with resources and physical facilities."

College students had volunteered to help the high school students organize and were assigned to different schools. They contacted student organizations and helped them organize the walkouts. One college student, a Chinese student from UC Berkeley, said, "There is an obvious inequity when I look at the schools they go to and the (more elite) school I went to." One organizer said, "We want to make a statement that the youth can organize ourselves. It shows how much power young people have."

Students who walked out of school risked discipline and arrest. Outside Berkeley High, an organizer challenged the students, rallying them around the issues of their educational demands and around being determined and daring in defying the authorities who deny them their rights. He challenged them to have each other's backs, too, in case of police attack, and not let the leaders get picked off. Another organizer told a group of students who were planning to walk out, "Some people will say that you might get hurt, or this is wrong, but you are already being hurt by the conditions in the schools."

The students' actions were a powerful counterattack against the vicious assault coming down on youth. And a call to others to step forward. A 14-year-old Latino student said, "The schools are messed up and students are fed up with it. We want to show the parents and the other students that if we stick up for ourselves, we can take back the schools and make it nicer." And a 13-year-old student from Alta Loma Middle School in South San Francisco told the Oakland Tribune that the protest "is going to wake everybody up and make them listen, because they weren't listening before."


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