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Opinion: High School Activists Lay Out Education Demands at “Where are the Pencils” Rally

Melat Eskender Melat Eskender Opinion: High School Activists Lay Out Education Demands at “Where are the Pencils” RallyBetsy Devos posted this photo after her first day as Secretary of Education. She jokingly asked "Where are the pencils?" This received internet backlash, as many teachers pay out of pocket for classroom supplies. Image from her Facebook page.
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“What does democracy look like?”

“This is what democracy looks like!”

The chant was repeated continuously, and with each repetition the tone of the crowd became increasingly fervent. A cycle of similar chants would be interchanged, including “We need money for education. Not for jails and incarceration!” and “When education is under attack, what do we do? Stand up and fight back!”

An intra-district, high school student-based rally was held in front of Senator Rob Portman’s Columbus office Friday afternoon. The rally advocated for preserving public education and holding Portman accountable for his vote to approve Betsy Devos as Secretary of Education. It was organized by student led human rights group Parachute, and attendees included students from suburban high schools Olentangy and Olentangy Orange.

An estimated total of 30 people attended the rally, bearing the frigid 30 degree weather and jarring winds to share their personal stories in the public education system and to condemn Portman for his irresponsible actions. The president and founder of the organization, Kanyinsola Oye, and her board laid out a 10-point plan calling on Portman to take immediate action to ensure that quality education and student safety will remain a priority within Ohio school districts.

The document addressed enforcement of the Disabilities Education Act, conservation of learning institutions as gun-free zones, and the sustentation of the separation of church and state within public schools. In addition, the plan discussed equal opportunities for students of color, low-income individuals and transgender students. This potent gathering of constituents was received by Portman’s secretary and staff, but the senator was in Washington serving his congressional duties.

As an attendee and minor contributor to this rally, the raw passion within the air was astounding, fostering an ebullient atmosphere. These young adults have become more audacious and aggressive than ever, reclaiming their future from the hands of the GOP and establishment Democrats. As students, as millennials and gen Zers, as progressives and as constituents, we demand that Rob Portman uphold his duty as this state’s public servant and protect the interests of Ohioans. If the senator chooses not to heed our demands, we will provide constant resistance, unwavering in strength and unity.

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