Otis R. Tay­lor Jr.: Stu­dents learn­ing power of protest.

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - FRONT PAGE - OTIS R. TAY­LOR JR.

Lau­ren Kahn was a sopho­more at Oak­land Tech­ni­cal High School in Novem­ber 2016 when she watched stu­dents stand up and walk out of class to protest the elec­tion of our pres­i­dent.

That was the first Lau­ren had heard of a walk­out. Two years later, the 17-year-old se­nior, who is in her fi­nal se­mes­ter of high school, is help­ing plan the protests that are emp­ty­ing her school’s class­rooms.

“Quite hon­estly, it’s not the most dif­fi­cult thing to con­vince stu­dents to skip school,” Lau­ren told me last week dur­ing a break from plan­ning a re­cent protest. “Stu­dents have been pretty ea­ger, es­pe­cially if you can give them a re­ally solid jus­ti­fi­ca­tion why they’re do­ing it.”

This week marks a year since a gun­man killed 17 peo­ple at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School in Park­land, Fla., on Valen­tine’s Day. The heart­break­ing tragedy sparked stu­dent ac­tivism across the coun­try. In re­cent weeks, Oak­land Tech stu­dents have been protest­ing to sup­port the Oak­land Uni­fied School Dis­trict teach­ers.

Teach­ers are threat­en­ing to strike if the school dis­trict doesn’t meet their con­tract de­mands for higher salaries and smaller class­rooms. On Jan. 18, teach­ers who called in sick or took a per­sonal day gath­ered in front of Oak­land Tech on their way to the school dis­trict’s of­fices. Hun­dreds of Oak­land Tech stu­dents walked out and joined the protest.

On Feb. 1, Oak­land Tech stu­dents or­ga­nized an­other walk­out. And just a week later, dozens of stu­dents skipped school for a “sick­out.” And they were joined by stu­dents from other Oak­land schools.

For al­most a year, I’ve been watch­ing a fan­tas­tic trend brew at Oak­land Tech’s protests: The protests are be­ing or­ga­nized and led by

teen girls.

As stu­dents marched along Broad­way on Fri­day, girls held the gi­ant ban­ner at the front of the march. Girls held mega­phones used to lead the chants as peo­ple stepped out of of­fices, car deal­er­ships and con­struc­tion sites on Broad­way to watch the stu­dents pass.

“No mat­ter how many teach­ers you don’t like or how many bad ex­pe­ri­ences you’ve had, you can’t deny ev­ery­thing teach­ers do for stu­dents,” Caro­line Pers told me. “It’s so much more than just a day job.”

I met Caro­line, a sopho­more, while re­port­ing on the na­tional walk­out against gun vi­o­lence in the wake of the Park­land shoot­ing. As a fresh­man, she helped or­ga­nize the March protest. Last week, Caro­line and Ivelisse Diaz, a ju­nior, met me at a cof­fee shop across the street from cam­pus.

Their Mock Trial team had won the night be­fore, and they proudly pointed out that five of the eight at­tor­neys on the team are girls. Right now, there’s a record num­ber of women serv­ing in Congress. I asked Ivelisse and Caro­line, both 16, if their ac­tivism is a re­sponse to the poli­cies and ac­tions of the dem­a­gogue who in­vaded the White House.

“One hun­dred per­cent,” Caro­line said with­out hes­i­ta­tion. “Novem­ber of 2016 was a re­ally big eye-opener for a lot of peo­ple. It def­i­nitely sparked some­thing.”

See­ing the Park­land stu­dents share their sto­ries in front of large crowds in­spired Ivelisse to do the same. Lau­ren, Caro­line and Ivelisse are girls who un­der­stand their power. I sup­port them tap­ping into it.

“Peo­ple like our­selves are see­ing the kind of dam­age that men like Trump do, the kind of ig­no­rance that makes him do ter­ri­ble things,” Ivelisse said. “We have to make more of an ef­fort to try and undo the wrongs of the past, be­cause there’s so many.”

Last week, Oak­land teach­ers voted over­whelm­ingly to au­tho­rize a strike. The vote al­lows union lead­ers to call a strike af­ter a neu­tral fact-fin­der presents their re­port, which is ex­pected Fri­day.

“The fact that they don’t get more fairly com­pen­sated is out­ra­geous,” Ivelisse said.

For Fri­day’s sick­out, Lau­ren re­cruited stu­dents from other schools us­ing so­cial me­dia apps in­clud­ing In­sta­gram, Snapchat and Twit­ter to spread the word. She told me stu­dents from Oak­land High School, Sky­line High School, Madi­son Park Academy, MetWest High School and Coli­seum Col­lege Prep Academy marched with Oak­land Tech stu­dents.

The state of Cal­i­for­nia funds school dis­tricts in part based on stu­dent at­ten­dance, also known as av­er­age daily at­ten­dance. If a stu­dent is marked ab­sent, the dis­trict loses money.

“The sick­out is go­ing to demon­strate, not just to the dis­trict but to the state govern­ment, that stu­dents ac­tu­ally do have sig­nif­i­cant power in these ne­go­ti­a­tions and that we’re will­ing and able to use it,” Lau­ren said. “What we want to do with that mo­men­tum is es­tab­lish our­selves in the ne­go­ti­at­ing process and even help the dis­trict ap­peal to the state for more fund­ing.”

Pho­tos by Yalonda M. James / The Chron­i­cle

Oak­land Tech­ni­cal High School stu­dents sup­port their teach­ers ral­ly­ing for higher pay and smaller classes.

Car­lita Lan­drum of Oak­land Tech ral­lies with her class­mates as they march to call at­ten­tion to their teach­ers who are threat­en­ing to strike.

Yalonda M. James / The Chron­i­cle

Oak­land Tech­ni­cal High School stu­dents march on Broad­way in sup­port of teach­ers threat­en­ing to strike.

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