This past March, 3,500 students walked out of Boston Public Schools (BPS) in a well organized action to protest a proposed $50 million budget cut to BPS which would result in the closure of schools, layoff of teachers, and diminished services in extracurricular spaces, AP classes and support for special-needs students. Young organizers began to mobilize weeks prior, beginning when a group of students reached out to the youth-led Boston Area Youth Organizing Project. In an interview published last week in The Nation, young organizers from the movement expressed pleasant surprise with the number of youth who participated, articulated the process of organizing the walkout as well as the disastrous effects such budget cuts would have on the lives of young people throughout Boston and made sophisticated links between budget policies and institutional racism.
The walkout has been covered nationally by the press, yet mayor Marty Walsh’s immediate response questioning who was behind the walkout stripped the youth organizers of their agency. Such ageism is unfortunately common and results in the important role of young organizers being overlooked in social movements (see Contanza-Chock, 2012). Youth across Boston continue to organize for their right to education. Just last week students across the city participated a “walk in” where they organized outside of their schools and walked in together in an act of solidarity along with students in more than 80 cities across the nation. In an interview with the Boston Neighborhood Network about the movement, a student organizer with Boston Student Advisory Council Edward Tapia questioned the validity of mayor Walsh’s response to the action, which purportedly safeguards high schools from budget cuts. Edward spoke of six teachers at his high school losing their jobs and pushed back against the suggestions from a McKinsey audit that suggested BPS could save $85 dollars per year by closing 40% of its schools. Edward smartly mentioned the price tag of the audit, costing over $600,000 to the city, and clarified that the $85 million figure comes from closing the maximum amount of schools on the spectrum presented in the report, which ran from 25 to 50. What Edward didn’t mention, is the role that school choice and charter schools play in the decreasing population of students across BPS.
The youth organizing efforts to counter the disastrous budget cuts proposed are making mainstream national media and organizers have employed social media in their actions through the #bpswalkout conversation on twitter and a letter on facebook in February which helped organize the walkout. While successful and visible, this movement is just one of myriad organizing and community engagement efforts young people in Boston are pushing forth every day, engaging with a host of community organizations and projects. Youth organizing groups such as the Boston Student Advisory Council, the Boston Area Youth Organizing Project, The Center for Teen Empowerment and the Hyde Square Task Force actively train youth in organizing to affect political change and engage lawmakers, civic leaders and community members while myriad other creative youth organizations employ the arts as a tool for youth development. Within this host of arts-based youth development spaces, several focus in particular on media-arts, training young people to tell their own stories and engage critically with media rather than being consumers of mass media, such as Presspasstv, CCTV’s Youth Media Program and the Do it Your Damn Self! film festival.
Youth activism is alive and well in Boston, evidenced by the battles young organizers have won making the MBTA safer and more friendly to students, campaigning to revitalize public spaces, engaging national actions for educational justice and continuing to rally against budgetary cuts to education in the city with the greatest income inequality nationwide. It’s time to start recognizing the role that young people here play in the struggle against inequality and their work challenging stereotypes and pernicious policies. We must learn to stand alongside, not in front of, the young people leading us in progressive movements today.