By Mar Velez, 17, Venice HS
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Mar wishes that the U.S. had more sensible immigration policies.


As soon as I heard about HR 4437 I knew it was wrong. This bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. last December, makes it illegal for U.S citizens to help undocumented immigrants. It felt like the government was trying to get rid of Latinos, legal or not. My dad told me about the bill. He’s documented, but some of our family members are not. Would they be deported? I was angry and wanted to do everything I could to keep this bill from becoming a law.

On Saturday March 25, my sister, a friend and I went to a huge protest downtown. As we stood among thousands of others, it felt good. I noticed so many different people, not just Hispanics. There was a tall white lady with the word "immigrant" written on her forehead. There were Aztec dancers, as well as all sorts of flags—American, Mexican, El Salvadoran, even Korean.         

I learned on the TV news that a lot of teens, especially from East L.A., had walked out the Friday before. I thought, wow, my generation is really trying to make a difference. I wanted to be part of it.

On Monday during first period, people were talking about walking out. At the beginning of second period, the principal came on the P.A. and warned us that we would be penalized if we left, and encouraged us to protest during lunch or after school.

I was walking to my third period class when someone shouted, "Yeah, c’mon, this is for our rights!" I hurried toward the front lawn, where I saw 20 kids with a Mexican flag and a banner saying, "No HR 4437." I was so happy that we, the students at Venice High, were going to do something. Whenever I had tried to organize people for the Peace and Justice club in the past, they hadn’t been interested.

The walkout was huge


As I walked along with my friends we thought only 100 or so people had decided to march with us. But when we looked back, I could see the students behind me stretch out for blocks and blocks—it seemed like half the school was there—maybe 2,000 kids. As we walked along, people in cars and trucks honked in support. A lady came out of a laundromat to cheer us on. A man stood outside his house to take pictures. Some of our school’s police and faculty even accompanied us. I heard one of the deans say on his walkie-talkie that even though we did leave school, everything was going pretty good. It seemed like even the school’s administration was supporting our point of view. While many marched all the way to Culver City City Hall, I turned back so I wouldn’t miss my seventh period SAT prep class.

When I returned to school, there was almost no one there. I arrived in time for 6th period—algebra II. My teacher was not happy that people had walked out. She said that she had been through numerous walkouts and that every time 99 percent of the students didn’t know why they were walking out. I kept raising my hand to argue with her but she wouldn’t call on me. She gave us a pop quiz worth 20 points—and no makeup for those who walked out.

Protesting an immigration bill, students at Artesia High (north of Long Beach) walked out Monday, March 27, as did thousands of students throughout Los Angeles County.
Photo by Billy Taing, 18, Artesia HS

When I got home from school, my sister called me over to read a comment on her MySpace telling her that anyone who walked out was ignorant. Instead we should stay in school and get an education—that was the real way to make a difference. We wrote back that at least walking out made a statement. We asked him what he was doing to make a difference. Was he writing letters to Sacramento and Washington?

Tuesday morning in first period, there was more talk of a walkout. I told my classmates that it was stupid to do it again. We were already being accused of walking out just to ditch. Once people start walking out every day, it loses its purpose.

But sure enough there were people who rallied up on the front lawn, and even though it was raining, walked out once more. I did not go with them.

In an effort to offer students an alternative to walking out, the principal came on the p.a. before lunch and announced that the Peace and Justice Club was meeting and that people were welcome to come and express their points of view. I started freaking out—it was the first time our club had ever been announced like that. Considering the school’s huge walkout, I figured that tons of kids would come to our club meeting.

But when I went to my club, only about 10 kids showed up. Our advisor gave us copies of the House bill and I led a discussion: Do you think it was right that everyone walked out? No, they all said. Kids were just ditching and didn’t even know why they were walking out. I asked them, well, do you know what the bill was about? The classroom was completely silent. It was sad. I was seeing that kids don’t want to bother with discussions and finding out the facts and details—they just want to march somewhere and say it’s wrong. They don’t want to do the work that it really takes to change things.

On Wednesday morning, the TV news had interviews with teens who were asked why they walked out. They said, "I don’t know. ‘Cuz I’m proud."

When kids were planning a third walkout during first period that day, I was disappointed. They were making us look bad, as ignorant as we had been accused of being by teachers and students who thought we only wanted to ditch. By that point, not only were kids getting marked truant, they were getting truancy tickets that required them to go to court.

A teacher organized a rally after school on the Thursday before spring break. About 30 kids came and signed petitions against HR 4437. But where were all the kids who walked out?

Let’s take the next step


Looking back on the walkouts, I was disappointed in my classmates, but I still think it’s cool that students who don’t consider themselves activists and don’t really follow the news took part. Maybe some of those teens did not know the exact facts of the bill, but I think they were motivated by an intuitive sense that immigrants should get a fair deal. It’s not right that immigrants who contribute so much to this country are denied benefits and are treated like a foreign species when in reality they are people just like us.

I hope that now we can take it to the next level. If we want to create effective change, we must do more than leave class. We must get informed, talk to other people and tell them facts, and get a group of people to take action. It could be walkouts, rallies, petitions or letter-writing campaigns. That’s how we can get the attention of the decision-makers who have the direct ability to change the laws. Then it’s not just another walkout, it’s a movement that will make America better.




KNOW YOUR RIGHTS

schoolwalkouts.info The Web site has questions and answers about students’ rights to protest and resources to help teens who were punished for walking out.

www.aclu-sc.org/Action/KnowYourRights/ has info for student activists in English and Spanish.