Reflections on a younger generation's new wave of activism, including the push to remove police from Columbus City Schools, where the writer attended from K-12
Last fall, when making a visit to a Columbus City School to hang out in a classroom with some brilliant young writers, sweat began to make its way through my shirt. During a writing exercise, I noticed sweat beginning to dot the heads of some of the students working through their prompts. Others began to fade, the way heat can make a person begin to fade.
It was unseasonably hot outside, though I imagine that what we know as "unseasonable" will become obsolete as climate change blurs the seasons. The school building was warm, something one might not notice until in a classroom with its door closed, an oscillating fan doing its best to ration out cool air to small segments of the room at once.
It is a privilege to be able to explain this from the perspective of someone who was in a room for merely an hour and a half, and not someone who moves from room to room for several hours a day. Someone who has to prepare to learn with the explicit understanding of how resources are lacking, how a system is failing the basic needs of the individual.
There has been a lot of talk lately about imagination — reimagining or altering the way many of us talk about what is or isn’t possible in the world. With this in mind, I find myself thankful for what people are willing to imagine, and stunned at the limits of others.Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
For example, I prefer a reality where there are schools that don’t have to close down when the weather gets too warm outside. I prefer a reality where students in Columbus City Schools don’t simply have access to newer textbooks, but also a robust library of texts. As someone who has come up in this school system, and as someone who still spends bits of time in these buildings, it is important for me to have an imagination that extends far enough to ask questions of how the needs of students are being met.
What I love about the work of organizing as it has robustly presented itself in this iteration of uprising, is that the questions have become simple: What do people need? How can I get people what they need?
And so, to honor those questions, Columbus has lightened the burden of those working for justice in various arenas. No one group has to do the labor for all. In early June, the group CPD out of CCS made its presence known. This student- and alumni-led effort to get police out of Columbus City Schools has been met with community enthusiasm and — unsurprisingly — moments of tempered placation by the school board.
I have been excited by their efforts, not only because I believe that when the youth in a community get active, it can energize an entire community to get active. And not only because I am heartened by seeing a pipeline of activism work growing in spaces I care about. But also because I am someone who went to Columbus City Schools, K-12. Two of the schools I went to are no longer standing. One of them will soon fall victim to this city’s most consistent magic trick, in which a building becomes condos.
I remember police officers in my middle school. I remember them roaming the halls of my high school. I remember the way fights were broken up, 15- and 16- and 17-year-olds grabbed by their shirts or by their necks and held up against walls or lockers. In the era I was in school (early 2000s), if you grew up in an over-policed neighborhood, or even a neighborhood where you are made familiar with the long reach of the police and what that long reach can cause, it potentially made you think that the police were immovable. Yes, you might have felt rage at their existence, but that rage didn’t promise you anything other than the ability to feel it while knowing that more was coming.
With police not only situated in schools, but also acting out some of the same violence I would see them engage in outside of schools, it made me and many people I knew feel like this was what we deserved. That this level of consistent and constant policing was baked into our lives, wherever we went.
At the time of this writing, Columbus City Schools does not have a new contract with CPD. On July 6, CPD released a statement that said it was “abolishing” 22 officers from Columbus City Schools. By using the language of the movement, the attempt, it seemed, was to satisfy the public. In reality, because there was no active contract, the police had to be reassigned elsewhere. But the statement felt like it served to trick people on the outskirts of the work into thinking that the work was done. In response, CPD out Of CCS released its own statement — staying on top of both CPD and CCS, demanding clarity and concrete action. There is still a contract that can be worked. There are still measures that would have police lining the hallways whenever in-person classes resume.
This resilience and clarity is also an extension of the imagination. One that spans generations of activists and justice workers, but seemed impossible to me when I was a Columbus City Schools student, encased by the same police force that patrolled my neighborhood.
The aims of CPD out of CCS are holistic — not just removing officers from schools, but also finding the resources to make schools safer on every front. Temperature control, building upgrades, adequate meal plans. All things that, for someone on the outside of the movement, might feel too impossible, too massive of an undertaking. But, the alternative must be considered. And the alternative doesn’t work for everyone. Not every student, not every teacher.
I am proud to be in the same city as the student organizers working behind CPD out of CCS. I am proud to be a witness to their fight, and I am excited to seek out ways to back them, to contribute to their limitless vision. I hope, for the students still in the schools I am so thankful for, that there will be no police lining their halls. That this can be a first step. Liberation begins with a series of small withdrawals, and then blooms wide.