Several hundred students from schools in and around Palo Alto participated in a student-organized walkout and peace protest in Lytton Plaza on Nov. 15, belting out uplifting chants along the way and cementing the youth presence in the community.
The event was organized by students and for students, as a result of ongoing political polarization and the recent uptick in hate crimes since Election Day.
The results of the election evoked strong emotions that caused many minorities, women and members of the LGBTQ community to fear for their safety and rights. Following Election Day, protests have erupted across the nation, some of which resulted in violence.
“I’m [at the protest] because I’m very concerned about the hate crimes in our country and the fact that the incidences of hate crimes have gone up since the campaign began,” said Elizabeth Eastman, a Palo Alto resident.
The protest included students from Palo Alto High School, Gunn High School, Castilleja School, Menlo-Atherton High School and Stanford University. Students from Paly met in front of the Student Center at the beginning of Flex period and marched their way into downtown Palo Alto despite rainy weather. Those who organized the event led chants and sang songs as they walked. After arriving at the plaza, several students gave speeches promoting tolerance and awareness.
Although the majority of Paly students was not eligible to vote, students who attended the protest chose not to remain silent about their concerns. A group of Paly juniors began planning this walkout soon after hearing about the hate crimes.
“[We planned this event] to send a message, the message being that we have a voice and want [President-elect Donald Trump] to do well, but he [cannot] enact policies that promote hate or further divide the country,” said junior Tyler Marik, who initially suggested the walkout on Nov. 10 in a Facebook group.
While the protest may have been perceived as a form of opposition against Trump’s election as the new president of the United States, the event was not intended as a protest of the results of the election, but rather a protest for peace, support and unity. Organizers of the event stressed the importance of nonviolence and calmness, and did not endorse defamation of any specific party.
“We believe [this protest] was a way of not only standing up to hateful messages, but also a way of peacefully taking the high road,” said junior Zoe Stedman, one of the key organizers of the event. “In the words of Michelle Obama, ‘when they go low, we go high.’”
Despite the fact that the event was aimed to be a peaceful protest, some students ultimately decided not to participate because they were worried for their safety.
“It’s not like we [my friends and I] don’t trust our own school mates, but we’ve seen news reports from all over our nation and protests that start peaceful have many times ended violently, like in Oregon,” said sophomore Kavi Gill.
Organizers of the protest also emphasized the significance of encouraging unity and promoting voices of teenagers and millennials who did not have a chance to cast a ballot in support of their favored candidate. Throughout the event, many students chanted “silence is violence” in hopes of inspiring other community members to express their voices in similar times of turmoil.
“I think it’s important because as youth, it’s important that we show our support and show that we care about our country,” said Alia Singh, a student at Castilleja School. “The issues that are happening around the world right now are really important and they should be addressed, so that’s why I’m here to show my support.”
However, some students expressed disagreement with the logistics of the event and questioned its general effects on the community.
“We [my friends and I] found the protest pointless,” Gill said. “Freedom of speech and all that stuff exists but in our opinion it won’t do anything because racist people will continue their ways and will not be convinced by this peace protest.”
Ultimately, the organizers felt that the protest was mainly successful in maintaining nonviolence and spreading positive messages throughout the community.
“The movement was all I hoped for and more,” Stedman said. “All the love that was spread throughout the afternoon, all the people marching in solidarity, all the wonderful speeches and all the positivity people had in them was even more than we realized this community was capable of.”