Ever since the early 1900s, protesting has been a staple of the American democracy, and on March 14th, hundreds of thousands of students displayed their right to protest across the country. Due to the state capitol building and college campus, Madison is certainly one of the best places in the country to examine the significance of a student-led protest.
Student-led protesting has always been a rich part of Madison’s history. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the nation watched as UW students protested the University of Wisconsin’s research involvement in the Vietnam War. The protests turned violent with the 1970 bombing of Sterling Hall on campus. Another historic protest that indirectly involved students is the teacher strike that occurred following Act 10 in February of 2011, which effectively stripped all public workers of collective bargaining rights. In swift response, nearly 100,000 people, many of them public workers and teachers, marched downtown. Some people eventually slept in the capitol day-in and day-out. While not student-led, thousands of students watched their teachers picketing and protesting for several days.
I believe another historic day in student-involved protesting occurred on March 14th. However, unlike the other issues that were being protested that had direct impacts on many demographics, the impacts from school shootings seem to be felt primarily in the school-aged demographic. That is the reason this protest was so important. Students cared more about this issue than most because, as JMM student organizer Hannah Levenstein said in response to the thought of students being to young to protest, “Students are the ones getting shot and the ones doing the shooting”.
Arguments have been made against students walking out of class and protesting. The main arguments have been: 1. Not old enough to vote so why should they be able to protest and 2. Students should be in school and not out in the dangerous street protesting. The counterarguments to those are: 1. “If students are getting shot, then they are old enough to have an opinion about getting shot” and 2. Right now the city streets are feeling a lot safer than schools.
In addition, protesting and marching is a way for students to voice and vent their concerns. A recent New York Times article titled “Why Demonstrating is Good for Kids” explained the benefits of young people getting involved in civic engagement. Taking into account factors like ethnicity as well as racial and economic backgrounds, it was found that students in civic activity had both academic and financial successes later in life.
As can be seen throughout history, including the history made this year, student-led protests are both powerful and important. Though sometimes seen as out of control, the student walkout on March 14th showed the maturity of students across Madison. Student organizer from JMM Chloe Baumbach said the goal was “to get our point across and hopefully this is a peaceful day.” What a beautiful and peaceful day it was.
– Leah Vredenbregt