Saturday, April 01, 2006

Organizing student walkouts on the www

Or if you're a Mexican-American teenager, it's an easy way to
subvert the man and surprise America.

Student Protests Echo the '60s, but With a High-Tech Buzz
Youths used a popular website to organize their walkouts. And some
did know what a 'sit-in' was.
By Scott Gold, Times Staff Writer
March 31, 2006

Shuffling her feet in her Garden Grove home last weekend, Mariela
Muniz stared into the carpet and suffered, as teenagers do, the
silent deliberation of her parents. Soon, her father nodded and her
mother uttered the words she'd been waiting to hear: "Lo puedes

"You can do it."

The next morning, the 15-year-old sophomore at Garden Grove High
School — with the permission of her parents, both of whom are
factory workers and Mexican immigrants who became U.S. citizens
after entering the country illegally — skipped school for the first
time in her life.

Following in the footsteps of those who led the first of the student
walkouts March 24 and the adults who organized last Saturday's
massive protest against proposed immigration legislation, Muniz
became one of a few dozen students in Southern California who helped
spearhead a national exhibition of civil unrest, one of the largest
and most boisterous since the civil rights movement four decades
ago. By the end of today — in Fresno, in Monterey Park, in San
Diego — more than 40,000 students in California will have walked out
of their schools to protest the proposed reforms.

There is little question that some students took advantage of the
protests to ditch school. Some acknowledged they had little idea
what all the fuss was about. Others took the opportunity to throw
bottles at police and to shut down freeways. Law enforcement
officials criticized them for diverting resources from more pressing
needs, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told them to go
back to school.

But for the small group of students who instigated the walkouts,
most of whom hadn't been politically active but were well-connected
on campus and online, it was a transformative week.

Using modern technology — mostly their communal pages on the
enormously popular MySpace website — they pulled off an event with
surprising speed and dexterity. Planned in mere hours on little
sleep, lacking any formal organization, the protests were chaotic
and decentralized and organic.


They had heard about the March 24 walkouts at several high schools
in Los Angeles, and decided to launch a protest of their own. On
Sunday afternoon, they posted a bulletin on MySpace — since
discovered by school administrators, who were not pleased —
announcing that anyone wishing to participate should stand up at the
8 a.m. tardy bell Monday and "meet in front of the school."

In the scattered, rapid-fire text typical of students' MySpace
missives, the bulletin continued: "dOnt b scared…. All these politic
officials are trying to make their dreams come true by destroying
ours, AND THEY WILL, unless we do something about it!!"

On the Internet site, which serves as a free-of-charge, virtual
gathering place, users can send bulletins to all of their
MySpace "friends." The lists can include dozens of people and the
bulletins can be passed along in seconds.

It didn't take long before most of Garden Grove High's roughly 2,200
students knew what was coming, without the knowledge or involvement
of teachers or parents.

Soon, the bulletin crossed over an invisible but critical line
between teens who were friends but attended different schools.
Students began posting their telephone numbers, and soon dozens more
pledges to participate were obtained through phone calls and instant
text messages.

Still, when the tardy bell rang Monday morning, Muniz had no idea
what to expect. Teenagers can talk a big game. But would they follow

She waited in front of the school. Soon, the doors opened, and
scores of students — most of them Latino, but a handful of whites,
African Americans and Asian Americans too — joined her. They marched
through Garden Grove and Anaheim, picking up students at several
other schools as planned through MySpace bulletins. By 1 p.m., they
had covered 10 miles. An estimated 1,500 students had walked out.
Muniz was a truant — and, to her friends, a hero.

School administrators have since informed her that she'll have to
perform community service as penance. Back at her home, a humble
ranch-style house with family photographs on the wall and avocados
on the dining room table, she said it was worth it.

"Sometimes you have to stand up for what you believe in," she
said. "We did. And it worked."

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