Leaving biology, English, and calculus behind, hundreds of New York City high school students walked out of class and into the pouring rain, marching to Trump Tower exactly a week after the eponymous candidate’s victory.
The march began around 10 a.m., when well over 100 students streamed out of Manhattan’s selective Beacon High School, chanting, “This is what democracy looks like!” and “Education, not deportation!” The protest coincided with others at colleges and university across the country.
Organized largely over Facebook and Instagram, New York City’s protest included at least two high schools — and was not the first time local students have walked out of class since the election.
Tuesday’s march captured the fear and anger many students have felt toward an election they could not directly influence.
“The day after the election, I was in tears,” said Hebh Jamal, a Beacon senior and one of the protest’s organizers. “A lot of my friends are disabled, a lot of my friends are immigrants, a lot of my friends are undocumented. This is scary. Everyone was just so distraught, and we all want to do something.”
After Jamal discovered a Facebook group that encouraged students to walk out of class, she helped spread the word at her school, and said teachers and staff were accommodating — even if they didn’t all support the protest directly.
Across the country, teachers have been forced to reckon with a president-elect whose rhetoric often comes at the expense of marginalized communities, and wouldn’t be tolerated in many schools.
But on Tuesday, the focus was on students. Their mile-and-a-half-long march to Trump’s soaring Fifth Avenue tower was accompanied only by a single NYPD van that blocked intersections still choked with rush-hour traffic so students could safely cross. Onlookers and tourists occasionally joined the chants, or took video as students marched past.
Beacon junior Chrys Fernandez, who participated in the march, worried that Trump’s policies could soon have a direct effect on her undocumented family members from the Dominican Republic.
“I don’t want [them] to disappear,” she said while standing in a barricaded area across the street from Trump Tower.
"Education not deportation" pic.twitter.com/CPuv9UQRHu— Alex Zimmerman (@AGZimmerman) November 15, 2016
Fernandez, who identifies as queer, emphasized a Trump administration’s potentially devastating stance toward LGBT people. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, she pointed out, has suggested diverting HIV and AIDS funding for “conversion therapy” to reverse the sexual orientations of queer people.
“I’ve never been in a position where being queer is a bad thing,” she said. “We’re outraged that this election will affect us directly the most but we had no say in it.”
Other students wondered whether Trump might eviscerate a variety of programs and protections, including federal Pell Grant funding, Obamacare and reproductive rights.
About 30 minutes after the Beacon students left, roughly a dozen students walked out of Harvest Collegiate High School near Union Square and hopped on the subway to Midtown.
Students from both Beacon and Harvest Collegiate said their teachers did not try to block them from leaving — and some encouraged the act of civil disobedience.
“My English teacher was like, ‘It’s fine I get it,’” said Beacon sophomore Jasmine Niang.
Beacon Principal Ruth Lacey did not return interview requests. The school’s parent coordinator, Erdene Greene, said Lacey generally does not speak to the press because reporters “always twist things around.” Officials at Harvest Collegiate did not return a call.
An education department official would not comment directly on the protests, but noted that students “who leave school will be subject to appropriate consequences in accordance with the Discipline Code.”
Hebh Jamal, one of the student organizers said students were in tears after the election. pic.twitter.com/cQIeQX7McH— Alex Zimmerman (@AGZimmerman) November 15, 2016
Still, Jamal, one of the protest’s organizers, said the march left her feeling hopeful.
“The fact that [Beacon staff members] didn’t stop us was very inspiring,” she added. “If this organized event proves to students that they can organize and can be a part of something, then we can do even more next time.”