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Everything you need to know about your right to protest

It's 2022, and the administration at your school still won't hire LGBTQ+ teachers. What? That doesn't seem quite right. So what are you going to do about it?

That's what the students at Seattle Pacific University are asking themselves as they fight against their school's anti-LGBTQ policies.

On May 23, SPU's Board of Trustees announced their decision to maintain a policy that prevents the hiring of LGBTQ+ faculty and staff. In protest, students organized a sit-in outside the president's office — a sit-in which has continued for an entire month.

Since the founding of America, student protest has been a big part of politics. And you've probably heard of some student protests in the news lately, like the March for Our Lives walk-out back in 2018.

But protesting can sometimes by tricky, and it is important to know your rights as a student when it comes to making your voice heard.


Can I get in trouble for protesting?

You have the right to speak out on your opinions, hand out flyers and wear clothing that makes a political statement—as long as you are not disturbing the school day. Of course, the definition of "disruptive" may vary, so just be aware of how your actions are affecting your fellow classmates. (Yelling into a megaphone to disrupt an assembly? Probably not the best move. But holding up signs in the courtyard before first period is likely fair game.)

Wondering why this is all legal? It's because of a Supreme Court case from the 1960s, when a group of students was suspended for wearing black armbands to school in protest of the Vietnam War. The Supreme Court eventually ruled that the school violated the students' right to free speech — and that they could only suspend the students if they had interfered with the operation of the school.

Thinking of participating in a walk-out? It's important to know that your school can punish you for walking out of class. Most states require that students attend school. Translation: Students who walk out can technically be disciplined. This might mean receiving an after-school detention, but every state, school and class has different policies.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't walk out. It just means you need to consider if what you are walking out for is worth it—and what the potential consequences could be.


How do I protest the right way?

When it comes to protesting, you should also consider if what you're doing is truly helping the cause.

Posting an infographic in support of a protest may be helping to spread the message, but it could also be spreading misinformation—which could harm more people than it helps. And if all you're doing is pressing "Add to Story" without doing further research, donating or showing up to support, you may be putting on a show, rather than truly helping.

So be sure you are sharing reliable sources and taking action in a way that *really* benefits the cause. And be sure you are doing it with the goal of making change, rather than the goal of getting more followers on Instagram.


How can I protest in my community?

There are a lot of easy ways to get involved right where you are.

Maybe your city doesn't have a glass recycling program. Or maybe there are no gender-neutral bathrooms at your school. You can get your BFFs together to write letters to your local and state representatives asking them to take action. (And this doesn't mean you need to use a pen and paper. You can also send emails, texts or tweets!)

You can also go the more artistic route and make posters or flyers to hand out. Just because the information on them is important doesn't mean they can't be cute! Get some bright pink paper, markers and biodegradable glitter and make a pamphlet on how to be a good ally or how glass recycling helps the environment.

Remember the most important thing to do when protesting is educating yourself. Search for articles and books on the topics you're interested in. That way, you can tell others why your cause is so important.

Your voice matters, and the law protects your right to be heard. So you might as well be as loud as you can.

Wanna know more about how to make change? Check out these related posts:

🌈 It's been three years since the March for Our Lives: Here's what has changed
🌈 What is performative activism and how can I avoid it?
🌈 We asked for reform, not a performance
🌈 How to be a good ally to the LGBTQ+ community

How are you protesting in your community? Let us know on Twitter @girlslifemag!

All GIFs via GIPHY
Slider image via @riogiancarlo


by Aubrey Rhoadarmer | 6/28/2022