Students for Change

what you can do

We Have A Voice!  Use It! 

Student Protest and Change

The History of Student Protest

Where there have been students, there has always been protest -- against inequity, against restriction, against war, against hatred. 

In U.S. history, students have been particularly active against injustice. As Maurice Isserman, professor of History at Hamilton College, states, “The labor and socialist movements had youth affiliates going back to the beginning of the century." As TIME Magazine puts it, "In one of the more dramatic examples, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones put children in animal cages to raise awareness of child-labor issues, and led the March of the Mill Children campaign that took place in July of 1903. During that episode, dozens of children were among the marchers who followed Jones from Philadelphia to New York to protest labor conditions, earning the event the moniker of the 'children’s crusade.'"


Student activism during the U.S. Civil Rights Movement helped shape the movement and achieve its goals. From college student-organized sit ins, to small children who walked into previously all-white schools through mobs of angry and violent hecklers, to Claudette Colvin -- who refuse to move before Rosa Parks. Additionally, on "April 23, 1951, ...16-year-old Barbara Johns led a walkout at the all-black Robert Russa Moton High School in Virginia to protest abysmal conditions. Johns contacted the NAACP, which took her case all the way to the Supreme Court, where it was one of the five cases involved in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education desegregation ruling. The Brown ruling, argues Rebecca de Schweinitz, a professor of History at Brigham Young University and author of If We Could Change the World: Young People and America’s Long Struggle for Racial Equality, put “school children at the center of the nation’s struggle for racial equality

On May 2, 1963, more than 1,000 children in Birmingham, Ala., skipped class to demonstrate as part of the controversial protest. According to King’s colleague James Bevel, a key organizer of the campaign, part of the idea was that they knew the participants would likely be arrested, but a high-school student — unlike a worker — could spend time in jail without creating an economic problem for the community.” (TIME Magazine). 

Anti-WAr Protesting

Tinker v. Des Moines is perhaps the most famous example of student activism in schools. To protest the Vietnam War, Mary Beth Tinker and friends wore black armbands to school -- they were promptly suspended, and even had threats painted on their garage doors. The Tinker family sued the school, and the case came before the Supreme Court in 1969, where the court ruled in favor of Tinker, writing "that students do not 'shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate'" (ACLU). 

By the 1970s, a White House report stated, "The young person can take the time to look at the system, question it, and attempt to change it.”

Black lives matter movement

It is perhaps most important to recognize the Black Lives Matter movement in this section. With black (and female and queer) youth often driving the movement, the Black Lives Matter website describes their history: 

"In 2013, three radical Black organizers—Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi—created a Black-centered political will and movement building project called #BlackLivesMatter. It was in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman.

The project is now a member-led global network of more than 40 chapters. Our members organize and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.

Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ humanity, our contributions to this society, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression."

The Black Lives Matter movement represents many of the original fighters for gun control and recognition (and change) of implicit bias. The Washtenaw Youth Initiative feels it is incredibly important to recognize that gun control youth movements began with BLM -- and that any and all efforts made towards changing our nation must include everyone, of all skin colors, ethnicities, sexuality and gender identities, and religions. 

School Safety and Gun Control

Now, the fight is inside schools -- on all levels. Students are speaking out against the increasing number of school shooting by advocating comprehensive gun control, as well as mental health awareness and support. Sparked by the Parkland tragedy, students in schools across the country are raising their voices.

Raise your voice too -- join the cause: 

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
— Margaret Mead