Since graduating last May, I have been working in my hometown of Oak Grove, MO as a full-time special education paraprofessional. My job consists mostly of reminding 7th graders about the difference between their, there and they’re. However, last week I had the unique opportunity to connect my student’s lesson on nonviolent protest to my friends and their campaign, KWOC (Kick Wells Fargo Off Campus), on my college campus.
The lesson quickly strayed off topic, as 7th graders are known masters of deception, leading to an hour-long lesson on foreclosure, human rights and subsequently the use of sit-ins, speeches and rallies to promote a cause. For the first time in a year, many of my students were actually excited by the subject of social studies. They began to discuss changes they wanted to see in their school and community. A petition for better desserts led to a proposal for holding a march against bullying. Ultimately, the students decided to promote a sit-in until the school offered more hands-on educational opportunities. The main teacher in the classroom (who was actually my 7th grade Social studies teacher) and I were both taken aback by the excitement that our students were showing for a subject they professed to hate most days of the week.
I was devastated when I returned home that night and discovered that the administration of Macalester College had refused the pleas of its students, alumni and community partners to transfer its card services to Sunrise Community Bank. How could I return to my students bearing the truth that most administrators, including their principal, were not likely to challenge the status quo? How could I convince them that non-violent protest can still be effective in this era of apathy? How could I continue to encourage them when the principal reschedules a meeting, the School Board can’t find the funding or the Superintendent challenges their integrity?
The next day, most of my students had all but forgotten the previous day’s discussion. One of my quieter students, however, approached me after class and asked, “Are your friends still having the sitting-in?” I excused the grammatical error and told her no, the school would not agree to the student’s demands. She looked confused and then said, “That’s okay; they can try a march now.” As she walked away, I realized that my amazing students know the sting of failure better than most and likewise know that the only solution is to keep moving forward.
I hope that members of KWOC, the Macalester community and their community partners will find inspiration in the words of my student. The photo campaigns, rallies, letters, petitions, speeches and sit-in may not have led to a victory, but you can always march!
Brett Srader ‘12