By Dani Wiesenthal, NFTY-CWR
In my world, I cannot walk around at night without an escort. In my world, one in five American women and one in 71 men will be raped. One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18; one in five women and one in 16 men will be sexually assaulted on their college campus.
These are not statistics. These are real people — myself included.
I’m 16 years old. I am already a strong advocate of racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights, women’s equality, and so much more. This is largely due to meeting, talking to, and learning from kids and teens who have the same passion and fire for social justice. I want young people to understand their potential in making lasting change in this country. I want them to know that just because I, or we, are not legal adults does not mean we can’t handle “adult” situations. We can have the “hard talks.” In fact, we need to have the hard talks. I’m tired of feeling ignorant and naive in a world I very much have a right to help shape.
This is what this world needs. The teenage outcry against gun violence did not stop on March 14th. It will not stop at gun violence. March 14th was our first step towards the change that we strive for in this country.
March 14th was also the first step in my own leadership. On Wednesday, March 14th, students from my school, C.K. McClatchy High School, honored the 17 gun violence victims from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school , alongside the rest of the country. At exactly 10 a.m., over 1500 students walked out of their second period classes and stood silently for 17 straight minutes around 17 desks in the front of the school. Although there were a few outliers, the majority of the students mourned in a respectful way. After the 17 minutes in silence, we had two amazing student speakers.
Leading up to the walkout, students in student government organized a forum about the walkout, the Sacramento March For Our Lives, and to clear up a shooting threat at the school a week before the walkout, and because the school didn’t condone advertisement of walking out of class. And, unsurprisingly, it went really well. Several students from all programs within the school attended and even spoke about their concerns and opinions. Our assistant principal attended, and seemed very impressed.
Ultimately, despite the walkout’s success in making a statement of solidarity, I believe our impact was tarnished due to direct involvement and sponsorship of the event by our principal and school district. Representatives even put the district label on our student podium. Students deserve to be leaders of their own movement through our own skills, experience, knowledge, motivation, and determination.
I believe we, as students, are more capable of holding our own and leading our own movement than we were allowed that day.
Shortly thereafter, a group of female students stepped up and organized yet another walkout, but with a different terrible issue in mind. This walkout pertained to a recent lawsuit against the school and district for improperly handling a former female students’ experience with gang rape in 2016. This student was drugged and raped by her classmates while on her way home from a party. Instead of punishing the assailants, some of which still go to the school, she, the victim, was asked to leave until the situation blew over. When she came back, she was greeted with harassment in person and over the phone by the same perpetrators who had attacked her.
Sexual harassment and assault has been an ongoing issue at this school, like in so many high schools, for too long. In this case, our administration and district are already two years too late. So we walked out once again.
This walkout was different than the last. There were no invited guests or media, no frills or politicians or district officers, and especially no adults (other than security). It was a proper, unsanctioned but fully justified walkout attended by over 200 student attendees and protesters, some with signs and some just with their voices. The student leaders spoke about how our administration has countlessly swept our issues under the rug and has yet to follow through on Title IX policies. One student speaker read a list of policies and demands, written by students, that we believe our school’s administration, district, and student support staff should (and need) to follow. After the scheduled speakers, we had a moment of silence for all survivors and victims of sexual assault and harassment. Afterwards, the floor opened to anyone who wanted to tell their story, someone else’s story, or speak their mind on the issue. It was an extremely welcoming and loving community. When speakers got nervous, we would cheer them on; when speakers got insecure, we let them know that their story mattered and that they mattered. When speakers got choked up, some hugged them, held their hand, or told them to take their time in support; and when speakers spoke their truth, we all clapped in agreement and sometimes in anger.
It is this anger that is pushing us forward.
These events show how intelligent, strong, independent, forward-thinking, creative, and passionate students are. We are more than capable of handling our own situations with poise, organization, responsibility, and a raised fist. What people of all ages need to understand is that we–as students, minors, millennials–have so much more than potential. Now more than ever, we have an unbelievable platform for change and progress. As young people, we are able to connect in ways no one over the age of 35 could have dreamed of. We have cell phones and computers and social media. We have the ability to pick up things quickly, make mistakes, and learn from them because we are willing to mess up and be stupid. Politicians aren’t and adults often can’t. So why not get us started early? Why not let kids, teens, and college students take the lead on issues that affect us?
It is evident from the passion and organization at McClatchy and schools across the country that we are equipped and ready to change this nation. So the next time someone tries to stifle your voice, just prove them wrong.
Dani Wiesenthal is a junior at C.K. McClatchy High School in Sacramento, California. In her free time, she enjoys singing, dancing, acting, song-writing, playing guitar, writing poetry, and playing lacrosse. Dani is also a madricha, song-leader and member of the temple youth group at Congregation B’nai Israel in Sacramento.