January 24, 2017
When the fifth-period bell rang on Tuesday at Evanston Township High School, about 300 students streamed out of the school to protest President Trump’s inauguration.
The students walked down Lake Street holding “Fight Sexism” signs, waving rainbow Allied flags, chanting “Black Lives Matter” and marching with drums.
When the crowd reached Fountain Square, ETHS students and local activists gave speeches in opposition to Trump’s presidency and about the importance of being involved in local politics.
“His (election) resulted in rage, anger and despair,” said ETHS senior Maya Madjar, who organized the event, in her speech. “In turn we transform that anger into something powerful — solidarity, community, resistance and strength.”
Madjar and other organizers had promoted the march on social media and with flyers. ETHS superintendent Eric Witherspoon said in an email the students would receive unexcused absences but he appreciated their right to protest. He said the district coordinated with Evanston police to block off streets and maintain order after organizers communicated their plans for the march to school officials.
“Political protests are one (of) the cherished freedoms we have in America and there is a long tradition of civil disobedience in our country to address important issues,” he said in the email. “We respect our students’ right to protest, but that also means them being willing to accept the consequences of a walk out.”
ETHS senior Anthony Hutchins spent most of the march at the front of the crowd leading the chants. This past weekend, he said he also participated in the Women’s March on Chicago.
He said this protest not only brought members of the ETHS community together, but it also helped bring some students “out of silence.”
“Some students didn’t know how to let their voice be heard,” he said. “This protest brought more people out of the box. It brought more people talking … and (realizing that) listening a little bit, or a lot, wouldn’t be that bad.”
Hutchins said he chose to participate in the protest because he has family who immigrated to the U.S. and he doesn’t want to see opportunities here “taken from them.”
Though many students came out to protest the new president, Madjar said she also wanted to educate students about how to involve themselves in local politics.
Madjar reached out about the march to students and local politicians, including city clerk candidate Devon Reid. Reid was arrested in November for refusing to give an officer his birthdate while petitioning for the office in downtown Evanston.
Reid said students should pay attention to local issues like wage rates, underperforming academic performance by low-income black students at ETHS and how Evanston police treats people of color.
“We have real issues here in our city, and it will take our generation to fix them,” Reid told the crowd. “We do that by stepping up into civic life, by voting, by showing up to protests like this, by going to boring City Council meetings and community meetings.”
Madjar said that although only about 10 percent of the ETHS student body joined in the march, it showed the students’ ability to organize a cohesive rally.
“I hope this is much longer lasting than just a one-time protest,” Madjar said. “There’s more power than just one person. We have this community together here and that’s power in itself.”