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My school shut down our anti-gun protest. This is what I learnt

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Photo taken by 2017-2018 Rising Voices Fellow Rachel Harris at the NYC March for Our Lives

By Rachel Harris

April 19th was a day of highs and lows. During the day, school was abuzz. Everyone was talking about the next day’s school walkout (planned in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida) – whether they were going to do it, what they thought the punishments might be, if they were going to be in our local newspaper… My phone was on fire with texts from the organisers’ group chat. We planned to meet that day after school. We sat in the conference room, excitedly discussing who was bringing what, and writing the post for the Facebook event. I went home, giddy and anxious. My leg bounced under my kitchen table while I worked on my homework, my trademark nervous habit. I worried that no one would show up, or that everyone would get in trouble and blame me, or that it would rain really hard. My foot bounced faster. My phone dinged, bringing me out of my reverie.

Madison, one of the organisers, had texted the rest of us. Our assistant principal had called her in to talk. My foot stopped bouncing and my stomach twisted into a knot. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, reminding myself of why I organised the walkout in the first place: the shooting in Parkland had happened over a month ago, and no change had been made. We wanted to keep the momentum from the walkout a month earlier. The assistant principal could suspend us all if he wanted to; I didn’t care. This was something that I needed to do.

I got into my car and drove to school, where a few of the other organisers were waiting by the door. We walked upstairs, a united front. The five of us entered the assistant principal’s office in silence. The next two hours were painful to endure. We offered every possible solution, but were met with nothing but resistance. He threatened to call the police on us if we left the building, and to suspend anyone he saw doing a sit-in in the commons. My foot bounced incessantly and I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from crying. We all agreed that we couldn’t put people in a position where they had to choose between their morals and their futures. We had been pushed into a corner, and we had no choice but to cancel. To make matters worse, we couldn’t even cancel the walkout on our terms. Our assistant principal essentially wrote the Facebook post for us, unsatisfied with what we came up with ourselves.

We left his office worn out, our heads hung low. The rest of the night proceeded in a blur. I cried and cried, incredibly frustrated that something I believed to be so important, and that I had put that much work into, could be torn away so easily. We come to school every day to learn, not just about algebra and biology, but about ourselves, and about how we can actively contribute to our democratic society.

The entire movement following the Parkland shooting was centered around lifting the voices of students, and within mere instants, that power had been stripped away. As a sixteen year old, it is incredibly easy to feel powerless – I can’t vote, and I am under the control of my parents and the administration of my school pretty much all the time. This lack of power is exacerbated by the fact that adults often write teenagers off as unintelligent and unqualified. The way my assistant principal spoke to us was the perfect example: he told us that while he was sure we believed what we were doing was just, he (as an adult) believed we were being naive.

This ageism isn’t specific to just my school or my assistant principal – it’s something I experience every day. People love to hear that I’m involved in political activism, but then they talk both down to and over me when I try to voice my opinion. They question the validity of my research, and often leverage their age against me in arguments. With the walkout, we had decided to bypass the system in the hopes that our passion would prevail. However, when we were shut down so quickly and easily, it became incredibly clear that when you exist in an unfair system, it is sometimes impossible to overcome it. Often I have no choice but to work within the bounds of such systems because of my age and my gender.

Thinking back on this experience, it’s easy to let myself get upset. The situation was handled so poorly, and that isn’t any easier to grapple with now than it was a month ago. However, I have realised that even though we didn’t get to follow through with the originally intended walkout, what occurred instead was just as important – we started a conversation.

My peers talked amongst themselves about what meaningful activism looks like and about what common sense gun control means to them. My mom met with my assistant principal and presented him with some tough questions, like whether or not he was using his power in a productive way; this started a conversation among the parents and administration about how adults treat teens.

Perhaps most importantly, I started a conversation with myself. How do I define success? How can I reconcile the passion of my peers with my school’s hesitancy to support student-led initiatives? What am I going to do next time? While the plan for the walkout may never have come to fruition, it taught me something important – you can’t win every time, and when you don’t, it’s imperative you use the loss to grow and adapt, instead of letting it define you.

This article was originally published on Jewish Women, Amplified, the blog of the Jewish Women’s Archive, and was written as part of the Rising Voices Fellowship

Chalk and Cheer for 44 Years

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By Jess Hayden

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Today marks 44 years since The Sun started having a topless woman on Page 3. This means that, for 44 years, The Sun have sexually objectified women to the point where the easiest way for a woman to be in the newspaper is to stand with her breasts out. What does it teach people – of all genders about women, if the biggest photo of a woman in Britains most popular “family” newspaper is a topless one? It teaches that women exist purely to be looked at.

At No More Page 3, we say this is 44 years too many. So, to mark the anniversary, we decided to protest yesterday outside of The Sun HQ near London Bridge. Chalk in hand, we stormed the square and wrote messages on the floor and walls for The Sun workers to read on Monday morning. Loudly, we sang “shove it up your bum old Rupert Murdoch”, to which The Sun’s security sang along. It was a great day, and PBG editor Yas did a great job talking to the police officers and using her charm to let us continue.

After hours of chalking and singing, we retired to the pub only to see cleaners take to the square to try to remove our artwork. We made it as difficult for them as possible. We lay down on our artwork, stomped our feet and sang as loudly as we possibly could. Soon, the cleaners gave up. Our artwork remained there for editor David Dinsmore and co. to read in the morning.

After all, we do strive to be as big of a nuisance as possible. I think we’re succeeding! Help us out by tweeting using #44YearsTooMany and urging everyone you know to sign the petition at change.org/nomorepage3

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Chasing Rupert Murdoch (and bumping into Boris)!

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Guest Post by Eva O’Flynn

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Today I felt powerful. Strategically placed between The Shard and Sun HQ, we, three teenage girls, sat and ate chocolate biscuits. Intimidating, I know. At least, The Sun’s security seemed to think so! They scowled, pointed and, when the shifts changed, warned each other of the threat that we were clearly posing. To make matters more hilarious, we are a relatively short group (see photo.) You couldn’t even see our t-shirts for all the jumpers we were wearing (until Stephanie ambled over, her tee quite literally glowing. Brilliant.)

At that point, the two police officers who were manning the area joined us. They arrived beaming and, as soon as they heard that we intended to be peaceful, our friendship was confirmed. We chatted about everything, from why they supported the campaign to the worst arrests they’d made and they even dispelled some of the more interesting rumours that we’d heard. They were brilliant, brilliant people. Even one of the security guards was friendly!

From our biscuit-filled perch, we caught sight of a shade of glowing blonde combined with the ridiculous amble that could only belong to Boris Johnson. He was walking away and we were about to lose what we saw as a brilliant opportunity for a comment. So we ran, capturing some brilliant selfies on the way. We were so exhilarated at the prospect of capturing the mayor in a shot with our NMP3 tees that, in the photos, we are beaming. Oh how I regret my facial expression and wish my disgust were visible.

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“What do you think of Page 3?” we probed, “Page 3 of the Daily Telegraph?” he responded pompously. “No actually, I read the Guardian. But come on, what do you think of Page 3?” At this point, his assistant began irritatingly babbling in the background, attempting to be clever. I somehow found myself telling our (buffoon of a) mayor in a tone dripping with irony my opinion of the Daily Telegraph’s Page 3. “I think it’s a pretty important page, you know? It’s the first thing you see when you open the paper, it’s right there in front of you, really sets the tone, don’t you think? Do you think that The Sun should potentially change theirs? Maybe, just maybe, boobs shouldn’t be the first thing you see?” Pathetically and unsurprisingly, he didn’t respond. We left him galumphing away to do whatever Tories do.

The big moment arrived. Murdoch was coming. Our two police officers fulfilled their duty, laughing, and the ridiculous number of body guards, less amusingly, attempted to hold us back. We shouted to Murdoch, showed him our tees, but the doors of the car soon shut. Before I could even gather my thoughts, Yas was in front of the car (quite literally in front) and they were rolling slowly towards her. She moved to the side with Stephanie and began to run, Rosa and I sprinting after as the car picked up speed. We were soon surrounding them, forcing the car to stop. We, four smiley, innocent women, stopped Rupert Murdoch’s car.

Today, although it may have been small, I felt like I made a difference. Today, four peaceful women disrupted The Sun. Today, I can say that I personally pissed off some powerful people. It feels amazing.

Read Eva’s original post, and more of her writing, here.

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