Skokie, Ill. students walk out for union rights

SKOKIE Ill. – More than 300 Niles West High School students walked out of classes March 17 to protest anti-union legislation under consideration in Illinois’ neighboring states.

The walkout began at 2:00 at the start of eighth period, the second to last period of the day, and continued for 40 minutes. Students desired to send a message to Illinois politicians that no such legislation would be tolerated in their home state. They also voiced their support for the Illinois Federation of Teachers and other unions around the country. (Story continues after slideshow.)

Many students wore blue, the color of the teachers’ union, as a symbol of solidarity with their own teachers. Lining up in front of the school on Oakton Street, participants chanted, danced and held signs aloft for cars to see. Many drivers (particularly truck drivers) honked encouragingly, sounding off and waving as they passed.

Chants included, “Union – Power,” “Union rights are human rights” and “We are the children of the working class; we’re gonna kick your corporate ass!” One brave teacher came out and praised the students for what they were doing, saying teachers were proud of their students’ “social conscience” and “desire to take action.” School security guards monitoring the event also quietly gave students commending words.

In order to prove to the school board and any others that might have been questioning their motives, participants walked back into school for the final class of the day. Students still received detentions for skipping eighth period, but faced the prospect with cheerful grins.

“It was worth it,” was a popular refrain from students congratulating each other on the success of the walkout.

Facebook was the major organizing tool used to prepare the demonstration. At first the organizers feared severe punishment if the board found out they were encouraging massive numbers of students to leave class, but they decided to push on anyway – and they were pleased with the results. Making both a Facebook Group and a Facebook Event, invitations were sent out to the majority of the senior and junior classes, with over 200 people RSVPing in less than a week.

Photo: Charles Bakes