On November 14, 2016, thousands of Seattle high school students took to the streets in protest of the presidential election results. The walk-out was an inspiring demonstration of the power that we as students collectively hold. And it was a painful reminder of our powerlessness as disenfranchised people inheriting the results of an election in which we had no voice.
Hours before students met in Capitol Hill and marched down to Westlake Park, a friend and I organized a rally for our own high school. As students of color at a predominantly white, independent school, we felt the need to carve out space and time to process recent incidents of racism in our own community and the ramifications of the election results. We needed to heal.
I witnessed my peers, teachers, and administrative staff come together in a way I had never seen before at my school. That day, students and adults in the Upper School circled together in the small courtyard as we extended the invitation to gather. Our invitation reached further than we expected, as middle school students filed in to join the crowd. Courageous truths were shared. Sage was burned. Arms were linked in unity. A moment of silence was held. Posters were made. And classes resumed two hours later.
For our small community, the two hour rally was not enough. For my city, one walk-out was not enough. But they both were necessary first-steps toward healing.
As a country we need to start taking second, third, and fourth steps. As people we need to use action as significantly as we do rhetoric. For the next four years, for time indefinitely, I need to know that the adults in my life support me. Below is a letter I shared with the faculty and staff at my school that afternoon, addressing the rally and city-wide walkout, and future plans for peacemaking in our community and the country. I hope that it serves to challenge all educators to act, assist, and grow.
I am incredibly grateful for today’s opportunity to organize and create the much needed space for our community to come together and speak their truths. It was humbling to hear the passion with which both students and faculty spoke about the need for action, change, and healing within our community and beyond. The gathering today, and the walk-out that thousands of Seattle high school students participated in, spoke volumes about what this moment in time means to us as young people. I would also like to take this opportunity to reiterate a few of the things stated and to add on to truths shared during our community meeting this morning.
In the past week, I have had multiple adults approach me and ask what they could do to support me and fellow students at this school. As faculty, fellow learners, and the mentors that students look toward for guidance, I would like to ask you to be especially mindful of a few things. Below are a few ways to move forward:
Understand that all students go through the healing process in different ways. As was stated by our Upper School Head this morning, some students take more time to “sit in their emotions.” This is crucial. This is a necessary part of the process. Let anger, sadness, fear, and frustration be. They are legitimate. You need only to look at the rhetoric and actions of emboldened Trump supporters to understand why.
Know that transgressions within our community and the breaches of trust caused by the actions of individual students reflect pain caused on a national scale. It is imperative that we recognize not just the emotional strain caused by recent incidents (i.e. use of racial epithets, micro-aggressions, stereotyping, erasure, etc.) within our community, but also the historical trauma that these incidents can bring up. For students in especially vulnerable positions, with marginalized identities, the election is about so much more than just Trump. It is about centuries of state-sanctioned violence against our bodies. It is about the systematic devaluing of our humanity, the othering of our cultures and differences. For some, it is a matter of life and death — and that is no exaggeration. Our lives outside the classroom are still real. Any attempt to make peace or heal also requires peacemaking and healing on a larger scale.
Acknowledge that this is not a surprise for many students. For white (and/or privileged) faculty members, in the words of Courtney Parker West:
“I get it. It’s awful. It’s terrifying. It’s devastating. But find yourself a white person and complain to them, then get past your feelings because if you really want to be an ally, we don’t need your posts or your shock or even your tearful apologies, but rather your organizing manpower. People of color have always resisted and you can follow us…And to my black and brown brothers and sisters reading this, I won’t tell you to not be discouraged, for I am discouraged. I will not tell you that we shall overcome, for I am tired of overcoming. I will not tell you to keep on keepin’ on like there’s any other option for us. I will only say that I will resist alongside you in love and justice because we come from a tradition of resistance.”
Be mindful of calls for “unity,” “mutual respect,” or “forgiveness.”Please understand that historically, calls for “unity” in the past were used as a subtle silencing tactic. While the current intent of most people calling for “optimism,” “unity,” or “forgiveness” is positive and ultimately necessary, its impact can be a painful reminder of historic, insidious attempts to censor dissent and return to the harmful status quo.
There is a time and place for optimism, for unity, and for forgiveness. Yes, they are necessary components of the healing process. But know that it is immensely difficult to embrace and empathize with someone who uses racial epithets, uses exclusive and hateful rhetoric, condones such rhetoric through their vote, or condones such rhetoric through their complacency. At the very least, unity will not directly follow the moment of abuse or the initial breach of trust. And that moment, or rather, the period of oppression extends far deeper than the night of November, 8th 2016.
Refer back to the first action on this list. Anger is part of the healing process and can take a painfully long time to work through. In the framework of peacemaking and restorative justice, people can only forgive when they are ready to do so. In a community, forgiveness and empathy are reciprocal, continual processes that occurs at different stages for everyone. They are not singular moments, they do not happen unanimously. Forgiveness occurs when the abuser(s) of trust indicate to the victim(s) that they have complied with mutually defined and acknowledged behavioral shifts, which ultimately moves both parties towards healing. That process takes time, is painful, thorough, and involves continuous action.
Acknowledge the necessity of self-care. In addition, someone notably articulated that, ‘“Don’t fight hate with hate’ is also a subtle example of gaslighting, in which our legitimate hurt and anger at the injustices we suffer is equated to the bigotry and abuse of our oppressors. For marginalized people, being angry does not mean you are being hateful, it means you love yourself enough to get upset at your own mistreatment.” In times like these, it is imperative that we prioritize the self-care of students in need, for self-care is inherently revolutionary in a society that fails to care for us.
Know how individual responsibility and identity is related to action. As I mentioned at the rally today, whether or not you chose to wear it, the safety pin symbolizes a promise that can be broken as easily as it is made. It is our collective responsibility to hold each other accountable to that promise. Let me be clear. A piece of metal, no matter how symbolic it is, will not save lives. It will not protect my peers and me from harm, from verbal and physical assault, nor from bullets. Wearing a safety pin is your personal commitment to action, which can actually protect us.
It is also necessary to examine and confront our own privilege, power, and difference in making that promise. The burden of education, peacemaking, activism, and facilitation, should rest on the shoulders of every single person. These processes are inherently uncomfortable and necessary. However, it was said today as well, that the ‘work’ is being disproportionately distributed. For underprivileged individuals, creating safe spaces, embracing difference, and communicating with the “other side” to dismantle insular bubbles are actions that have been ingrained in our existence. These are necessary skills we use to survive this world, and to ultimately make it a better place. And we have been bearing a weight too heavy, while others in positions to contribute have been slacking for far too long.
Listen. Process. Act. Create a culture that is intolerant of intolerance, both in and outside of the classroom. Check in with your students, give hugs, and listen to us when we need you. Also, understand that hugs can only go so far to provide safety. Listen to our truths. Recognize us and our leadership and know that leadership in inherently a relational process.
Renew your commitment to action daily. Support institutional programs that uplift underrepresented narratives, seek out marginalized voices and promote them in your curriculum. Give your time to student organizations on campus, be a participant and facilitator in safe spaces.
Resist. Fight for your students and their rights. Give your time and money to organizations, support movements like Black Lives Matter and NoDAPL.
Ask yourself what you’re doing. Then, ask yourself what you aren’t. Show up, because your actions speak louder than words, especially as adults in our lives.
I hope this list serves to initiate necessary conversations, help you lean into discomfort, and assist us as students in this fight for our future.
Power to you.
— Brady Huang, Class of 2017