Student activism takes on a new look through COVID-19

By Addie Gleason, Parkway West High School

Student activism has been apparent for many years, however now it takes on a new look with restrictions from COVID-19. Students have had to adapt their ways of protesting to ensure safety while still fighting for their beliefs.

Black Lives Matter movement

An infographic about how you can get involved in the Black Lives Matter movement. (Addie Gleason)

Senior Bri Davis has written stories and kept up with the news in order to stay informed about the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Despite this virus going on, Black people are still fighting for their rights and for their life. The police are supposed to uphold a good status of themselves but as we can see, that is not happening,” Davis said. “In the time we are in now, a pandemic, we should not even be out as it is our job to be socially distant from each other to prevent as many deaths as we can from the virus alone. People are dying not just from the virus, but from the hands of officers out in the public. That is just adding onto the list of lives lost as if it isn’t enough from the virus.”

Coronavirus has disproportionately impacted Black people due to inequities in health care.

“The BLM movement began, not because of a virus, but because of the minorities being tired of fighting for something they shouldn’t have to fight for anymore. I feel like the virus and the movement are two different things although people will use the virus as a way to cover up what really happened—they try and distract your mind because they don’t really care about what happened,” Davis said.

According to the CDC, Black people have a 2.6 percent higher rate of cases.

“I see big things happening in my future and I believe that if I can get past this, I am ready for a lot. And although there is still more to come as racism is still in play and I have yet to be on my own, I will be prepared. And my family, I see them every day,” Davis said. “By seeing them every day, they let me know that this is not the end and that there is so much in store. I want to make my family proud of me, so I continue to do what I do for them. I’m writing and studying and working and all these other things to make them proud.”

To stay involved, Davis participated in Blackout Tuesday, signed petitions and supports black-owned businesses.

“It is a different look because people have to be more cautious, they can’t just go out here and do what they would normally do. Despite the many changes, that won’t stop people from doing what is right and I am glad that people are still doing things,” Davis said.

Student’s families participated in a march organized by District teachers in June, but the school has not released anything formal in support of the movement.

“West itself isn’t participating as they should, I feel. Even if it is not a lot, you still have a good chunk of African American students at your school,” Davis said. “The least you can do is post about it, donate money, something. I’ve seen students post about it but if you’re talking about West as a whole, then I have seen nothing.”

Climate Justice

An infographic about the Sunrise Movement. (Addie Gleason)

Freshman Sarah Reifschneider recently got involved in the climate justice movement by joining a Sunrise Hub, a group of young people advocating for the Green New Deal.

“After Cori Bush’s victory in St. Louis, I felt so inspired and decided to reach out, officially, to the STL Hub and a couple of weeks later I had my first meeting,” Reifschneider said.

Students have joined Sunrise and the Parkway Sustainable Schools Challenge to take on a role in the movement.

“Being stuck at home has given me plenty of time to get involved and I recommend others do so too. Sunrise hasn’t changed a ton, other than gathering on Zoom rather than meeting in person,” Reifschneider said.

Much of Sunrise’s work is done through phone banking, letter writing and calling elected officials.

“At first, [phone banking is] kind of nerve-wracking. Sometimes I would forget my script or stumble on my words and sometimes people get frustrated with you and start cursing, but it’s a good experience and I would recommend trying it if you want to get involved,” Reifschneider said.

This summer, Reifschneider completed over five hours of phone banking, a strategy to collect voters’ data and promote a candidate. Despite restrictions from the pandemic, more than one thousand young people participated nationwide.

“[Sunrise is] also fighting to take down massive fossil fuel industries that are contributing to this crisis. The world’s youth is doing so much for the climate crisis right now and it’s amazing the strides we’ve taken on our own,” Reifschneider said. “I think that Sunrise has done an amazing job of making the most out of being stuck at home.”

Wide Awake’ is a tactic Sunrise uses involving singing, shouting and holding signs outside of a political figure’s house to advocate for their beliefs.

“Coronavirus has been a blessing and a curse in a sense. On one hand, there are significantly fewer carbon emissions going into the air since fewer planes are flying and many people are using their cars far less,” Reifschneider said. “On the other hand, the pandemic has made it difficult for us to come together and have that same experience or energy we would have in an in-person meeting. It has also made organizing protests far more difficult.”

Congresswoman Cori Bush supports different climate justice initiatives and their relation to BIPOC communities.

“It was so rewarding to see Cori Bush win against Lacy Clay after his reign of 50 years in congress. Knowing that I was a part of that campaign was so cool and it shows that there truly is strength in numbers,” Reifschneider said.

Feminism

Sophomore Nikita Bhaskar is one of three leaders of Feminist club.

“Once I started educating myself through not just the news and social media, but by talking to the strong women around me, I realized that if there is such a thing as a feminist, I would definitely be one of them,” Bhaskar said.

The Women’s March group now hosts weekly webinars covering topics such as caring for elders, disability justice and talking to kids about Coronavirus.

“I think that women are powerful and just as deserving as everyone else, and I want the girls of the next generation to know that they can do anything they want and put their minds to. It’s not just the women’s rights movement in feminism, it is equity for everyone. I think that everyone is equal regardless of their gender, sexuality, ethnicity, etc.,” sophomore Lauren McLeod said.

McLeod uses her voice through social media posts, signing petitions and selling stickers to donate the profit to a women’s shelter.

“Many people have been severely affected by this pandemic in multiple ways and many people of color, single-income families, and other situations have experienced classism and other forms of oppression. It is often hard to step out of our little bubble of privilege to see how other people’s lives are being impacted,” McLeod said. “Same thing with the women rights movements, when fighting for equity for all you have to see who first doesn’t have any form of equality and look to see how to improve that.”

A new campaign was created on Facebook called “Women on the Front Line of the Fight Against COVID-19” to highlight women’s roles in the coronavirus response.

“I would have to say that COVID-19—and 2020 overall has shaped activism into something that has never been seen before. In my opinion, this year has brought more and more of our generation to peek their heads outside of the curtain and see beyond our bubble,” Bhaskar said. “In an age where social media has immense power, us kids under 18 have more of a platform to make change than ever before. Whether speaking up about social injustice, signing petitions online or even just educating those around us, we have a larger voice than we even realize.”

In an age where social media has immense power, us kids under 18 have more of a platform to make change than ever before. Whether speaking up about social injustice, signing petitions online or even just educating those around us, we have a larger voice than we even realize.”

— Nikita Bhaskar

The Feminist Club, also led by senior Ulaa Kuziez and junior Mira Nalbandian, recognizes an interconnected system of oppression, meaning different women can face multiple types of oppression.

“We advocate for Asian Americans who are unjustly facing racism and prejudice, we advocate for our essential workers who may not be getting the treatment they deserve and we advocate for anyone else who needs it. Part of West High’s values is to care for each other and our community, and that’s exactly the goal of Feminist Club,” Bhaskar said.

In the past, Feminist Club has organized the voter registration drive and a fundraiser for the Immigrant and Rufugee Women’s Program.

“Our country gives us a lot of freedom, and with that freedom comes the responsibility to care for our community,” Bhaskar said. “Even if the world turns upside down tomorrow, we are all turning upside down together.”

This story was originally published on Pathfinder on September 28, 2020.