Tuesday, January 30, hundreds (estimates range up to 2,000 total) of high school students across the city walked out of school to show their support for the Palestinian people. They called for a ceasefire and humanitarian aid in Gaza.
The walkouts were organized by students via social media (see @chi-radscps on IG) to put pressure on the Chicago officials to pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire at the City Council meeting being held the next day, January 31. The resolution passed, with the mayor breaking the tie vote, while raucous protests continued inside and outside the City Council chambers.
Students’ homemade signs read “Free Palestine,” “Let Gaza Live,” “Stop killing kids like us,” “CPS [Chicago Public Schools] kid 4 ceasefire,” “Curie [high school] stands with Palestine” and many similar sentiments. The walkouts were notable for the diversity of students involved, with Black, Latino, white students and Palestinians taking part.
At noon, students gathered outside each school holding speak-outs, marching and chanting around the school neighborhood or heading to a City Council representative’s office. Many students jumped on public transportation to join high school students from downtown in a protest that converged on City Hall. Hundreds sat down in the street in front of City Hall, and then 250 occupied the first floor of City Hall for an hour-long sit-in.
Several schools each saw 200 to 300 students take part in the protests: Kenwood HS, a predominantly Black high school in Hyde Park on the south side of Chicago; Lane Tech, the largest high school in the city on the north side; Lincoln Park HS; and Jones Prep in downtown. Dozens protested at other schools around the city. A total of 15 schools had walkouts.
Many of the students expressed to reporters the hurt and horror they feel from the killing they see in vivid images of people dying in Gaza. A student from Lincoln Park HS said, “Even though we are in a place where we’re safe, Palestinians wake up every day wondering if they will die.” Another said, “Our tax dollars are being used to commit war crimes.” A student from Jones Prep said, “I’m out here because what’s happening is wrong. There is a genocide going on and we need to stop it.” (source: Chicago Sun Times)
Students at Lane Tech made the following comments to a revcom reporter about why they participated: “They're human, too many people are dying, people want a ceasefire and they are not listening to us.” Two young guys said they participated because “genocide is wrong.” Another said, “People need to do their research and look at the number of people dying.” A group of young women, one of whom took 20 copies of the Open Letter from Sunsara Taylor1 inside for others, said, “All the dying... it’s always wrong to kill civilians.”
Coverage of the protest at Kenwood HS made the point that “numerous Black students called for cross-racial unity in addressing the Gaza conflict. Palestinians have backed Black Americans as they’ve demanded an end to police brutality—and now it’s time to show up for Palestinians in the same way, the students said.” One student said, “The students and the younger generation really care about the Palestinian people. Even though we are not being bombed in the U.S. we are indirectly affected by this.... we’re seeing this can happen to other people.” (source: Block Club Chicago)
A Palestinian student said, “Seeing everybody’s support, I feel it’s great that we can all come together to fight something like this. No matter where we’re from, no matter where we stand, this should be a common thing.” (source: Hyde Park Herald) A student from Jones Prep said, “I think people forget that Chicago is made up of so many different groups and we have the largest diaspora outside of Palestine of Palestinians in America. We can’t just not acknowledge what Palestinians have been experiencing for over 75 years. And that is why we need or have protests like this. That is why we need to stand up like this.” (source: Chicago Tribune)
The day after the protest, revcoms interviewed several students (all Black) at Kenwood. The students at Kenwood had stayed in the neighborhood, and most had no idea, until we told them, about the scale and scope of what they had been part of. Those we asked said this was the first time they had protested about the war in Gaza.
Here are some excerpts from the interviews we did at Kenwood.
Female student: At first I didn’t know, really know what the walkout was for. All I heard was the word ceasefire, and I assumed it was for the Israel genocide, ohh Palestine genocide, right. When I went I just thought it was for a good cause. It was for something that I supported and I just wanted to go and support it... Basically, we walked out of our school all the way to another school, Shoesmith, some were chanting like “Free Palestine” and stuff like that while holding signs. And we stopped and went into a circle. Some people came up to speak up on the topic about how they felt it about.... It was a positive thing, something to think about.
Male student: I just felt like there is a lot of stuff going on around in the world and like there shouldn’t be any more war like that going on and it just didn’t feel right to me. So I just felt walking out to Shoesmith and going to the peace circle. There is a lot of stuff going on. Ceasefire this, ceasefire that. It wasn’t just about Palestine or just about Israel. You didn’t pick a side or anything. We were just trying for everyone to just stop fighting, honestly.
Female student: We have been hearing about the Gaza/Israel situation for years. And colonization is a big part of my history. My ancestors came here as a part of colonization. And Israel is a modern-day colonizer. It is largely not their fault because it is a big product of anti-semitism over the years, but they’re perpetuating the same struggles and the same bigotry that landed them in their situation and has been oppressing Jewish people and they are pushing it off onto the Palestinians that live in that area. That is their land, they’ve lived there for years, for decades, for centuries longer than them; they don’t deserve to have it forcibly taken from them. There is so many other solutions for co-habitation that isn’t Israel [being a] state. [The state of Israel] doesn’t belong there, doesn’t deserve to be there. Seeing the atrocities they are committing is honestly horrific. It is horrifying that so many politicians, so many people believe that that is a good thing. I think that if we are not supporting Gaza and Palestine in the ways that we can like the walkout or like this [referring to the leaflet we were passing out]. Then we are doing them a large disservice. We are watching a genocide happen, like the Holocaust and we are not doing anything about it. It’s like those people didn’t do anything about it and when it is acknowledged as it is in 40 years or so. I would like to be on the right side of history. I would like to be able to say that I did what I did.
Interviewer: What would you tell other students about why they should participate?
Female student: To read up on it. To know exactly what is going on. Don’t listen to the propaganda that’s coming from either side. Do your own research and then examine what you value, what you want yourself to be remembered as, and what you want to be able to stand by. ’Cause if you stand for nothing, you fall for everything. If you stand for something no matter how young you are or what you can or can’t do, try to take a stand somewhere and try to make this world a better place to meet challenges.
While these interviews were occurring, other revcoms passed out the flier, “A message from the revcoms: To All Who Have Stood Up for the Palestinian People Against the U.S.-Backed Israeli Genocidal War.” The day before, the revcoms had been challenging students at Kenwood to get with the revolution, agitating about and getting into their hands the revcom.us editorial, “2024: We're Here To Recruit You—For The Revolution.”