Scrutinizing Protest: Are Walkouts Effective?

Intersectional oppression exists on various scales, from campus to country. When we face intersectional violence, whether directly or indirectly, one of the ways in which we fight back is by walking out. Walkouts are a form of social protest where we drop what we are doing in the middle of everyday life, ceasing to turn the cogs of the society of which we are a part. Examples include walking out in the middle of a college class, ceasing to work and/or letting work happen on Wall Street. Of course, the Occupy Wall Street movement was more than just a walkout, but also an occupation. Usually, a walkout shows resistance and/or solidarity against a certain issue, as in the case of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Teach-in/Walk-out on campus (Sept. 11). Sometimes, a walkout lasts for months and aims to disrupt those unaffected by the injustice at hand. In this way, the case of the Occupy Wall Street Movement which started in July kept its momentum until December. Whether the protest is short-lived or prolonged, a walkout shows a group’s stance on a certain issue via physical presence.

Often, while the ultimate aim of a walkout is to cause tangible change in the institution or system out of which a group walks, many also know that one walkout is not going to solve a problem that has been existent for years. The recent DACA walkouts highlight this point. DACA, an immigration policy that grants a temporal right of access to work permits under certain conditions, was rescinded on Sept. 5 and sparked walkouts on campuses countrywide. We had a DACA Teach-in/Walk-out on campus, initiated by collaboration of students in Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MECha) and professors. The aim of it was not just to show resistance and solidarity, but also to provide facts about DACA and the contributions undocumented immigrants have had on the country, such as paying roughly $11.74 billion in taxes. DACA walkouts such as these are happening on college campuses and at high schools across the country.

Another example of a walkout happened at the University of Michigan on  Sept. 25. The walkout was spurred by the N-word being scribbled onto name tags of three black students. The walkout, which slowed the local bus system, highlighted the inconvenience faced by marginalized people on a daily basis.

Unless there is a miracle, walkouts do not often lead to visibly large changes. Rather, the aim in each of these cases is to show resistance and solidarity through physical presence. The walkout happening is itself a show of success. In order to have a walkout, protesters have to physically organize and act. Clicking buttons to show support on social media does not take the same amount of effort and courage that walkouts do. When participating in a walkout, to greater or lesser degrees, individuals put themselves in a vulnerable position and risk harm. In other words, protesters see enough cause to risk a part of, if not their whole lives in showing resistance and solidarity. Walkouts put protesters in close proximity to people that are affected by the issues being protested. Walkouts, and occupation which often accompany them, has been effective upon its success by nature.

One of the arguments against walkouts as a method of protest, especially on college campuses, is that they are not worth it. As a college student, we pay a high price for the classes from which we walk out. As we have noted, a walkout on a college campus, or multiple walkouts on multiple campuses, does not realistically cause governments to change their minds and bring about a resolution. Perhaps skipping classes that we pay for to participate in a walkout may not be the smartest choice.

On college campuses, by participating in walkouts we risk potential physical and mental/emotional harm as well as missed classes. Yet, this worry resides completely within a system of intersectional oppression. First of all, not  taking any action to address oppression is standing on the side of the oppressor; there is no such thing as an innocent bystander. Secondly, our worries about tuition would not exist were it not for our own occupation of a privileged environment. This privilege does not just visit us by chance; to varying degrees, we are here as conscious participants of institutional, intersectional oppression. The very fact of being a student in a college puts us in a position of power, which if we wish to go against intersectional oppression, we have to constantly work to destabilize and dismantle. Walkouts, in their very nature of disruption, have this function because they force oppressors to acknowledge resistance, a disturbance of their peaceful, un-oppressed life. To walk out of class is acknowledgement of the fact that there are things far more important than sitting comfortably in class.