It was a typical Monday at Rainier Beach High School. Classes were quiet as usual at the start of the school week. Most students, including myself, were dragging our feet from class to class, counting down the minutes until 2:50 p.m.
Then, during third period, a classmate of mine shouted from the back of the room, “Hillary Clinton is coming to Rainier Beach tomorrow!” Instantly, the class swarmed to her, asking for her sources. At our school we are very politically aware and have discussions about presidential candidates nearly every week.
The news made us act as if we were two-year-olds force-fed several bottles of energy drinks. After about five minutes of yelling and pushing and begging for more info, we discovered that our classmate had received the news through Twitter. We instantly went to several other teachers asking for validation, but no one could confirm. They were all just as clueless as we were. Eventually a teacher asked the front office, and learned that it was true: Hillary was on her way.
Besides the administration, nobody in our school had been privy to this knowledge until it was too late to act on it. We, as students, should have a right to decide whether our school is used as a stage for a political candidate, especially if a lot of the students and staff do not think that a particular candidate has their best interests at heart.
At Rainier Beach, we share a genuine interest in politics, largely because we have to. Being a school with over 90% students of color and more than 70% on free and reduced lunch, most of the things being said in the political world right now affect us directly.
For instance, Donald Trump has publicly insulted Mexicans, Muslims, immigrants, and those who are less affluent. Essentially, he is insulting nearly all of our student population. He has also proposed several policies infringing on our rights as Americans which he threatens to implement if he becomes president. This incites fear in our hearts and forces us to watch the campaigns while praying that certain personalities do not get elected.
Which is why a lot of our students hold animosity towards Mrs. Clinton.
Ahlaam Ibraahim, a senior, said, “I don’t trust her because of her policies and how she’s always switching up. Something in my gut says she isn’t about what she states she is. It’s like she’s putting on a show for us.”
Another student, Naima Yusuf, said, “I’m still hung over her calling [gangs of kids in urban areas] ‘super predators’ and then saying they needed to be brought to heel. This was and is still super insulting to me.”
Still another student said, “I’m not really cool with her foreign policies and how she supports Israel indefinitely. The conflict in Palestine was a problem caused by western interference and by continuing to support the occupation, we are causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.”
On the subject of race, another said, “We are in a moment in time right now where the conversations we are having about race and identity are becoming prominent and necessary. I feel like Clinton doesn’t do a good enough job of stepping out of her comfort zone to address those problems. She’s really good at pointing fingers and acknowledging there is a problem, but not describing solutions that are intersectional.”
If so many of our students feel this way about Clinton, how do you expect they felt knowing that she was coming to our school the next day? We felt that using Rainier Beach over other high schools in Seattle was a strategic PR stunt by the Clinton campaign, considering most of our students are young people of color.
Yet despite all of our internal feelings and desire to act upon them, we got the news so late that there was nothing we could do but attend the rally and see what Hillary was about.
The next day, after school was over, we waited for hours to get into our own gym for the rally. We were tired, coming off a full school day, and our spirits were low because we felt like we were being sold for publicity without our consent. To add to that, in line we had offensive comments directed toward us. One woman approached us and said, “Can I take a photo with you guys so I can show people that I’m not afraid of Muslims?”
Another man and woman were snickering behind us, talking mess about our school and neighborhood. In that moment we felt like we did not belong because we were some of the only people of color in that long line, which wrapped three times around in the parking lot and onto the front of the school. Can you imagine feeling like you don’t belong in your own school?
After waiting for roughly three and a half hours, we realized there was a priority line for other people to get in first. So we waited even longer for them to get situated, then we finally made our way in and looked around.
People from Mrs. Clinton’s campaign were picking out the few people of color in attendance and asking them to stand in the bleachers behind Hillary so the crowd would look more diverse then it really was. It looked as if most people there had never stepped foot in the south end, let alone Rainier Beach.
In Clinton’s speech, given to students and staff, it was not about what she said but rather what she did not say. She didn’t mention what she would do for schools like ours. She didn’t talk about the school-to-prison pipeline. She didn’t talk about high incarceration rates. Rather, she talked about holistic ideals she had for the country.
Exactly as our students feared, Mrs. Clinton had a lot of filler talk, but not the hardcore conversations that are needed. She didn’t even allow for a question and answer session, and the only people that got to talk to her and take pictures were those in the priority line.
This explains why a lot of our students and staff appreciate Bernie so much: Sanders actually talks about things that matter to us. He has those uncomfortable conversations because he knows they’re needed. We appreciate Bernie because he knows our political and economic system right now only helps the rich get richer and the poor get poorer; that it only continues to be punitive and inconsiderate. This explains why he won the Washington state caucus on Mar. 26 by a sweeping majority.
You would have assumed that somebody from Hillary’s campaign might have informed her about our school before she chose to attend. They might have informed her about how socially active we are. How we continue to fight to achieve equity across our school district, the city and beyond. And how we aren’t afraid of calling things how we see them.
Maybe then she would have changed her speech to better address our concerns, and possibly even shifted our minds to get our vote.