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CPS students protesting for cease-fire

Chicago Public Schools students at Lincoln Park High School joined kids at schools across the city who protested Tuesday in support of a cease-fire in Gaza.

Pat Nabong

CPS students walk out to support City Council’s Gaza cease-fire resolution

Hundreds of high school students across Chicago walked out of their schools Tuesday to call for a cease-fire in Gaza.

The City Council is expected to debate a delayed resolution Wednesday that would call for a cease-fire after more than 26,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli attacks, and the release of hostages taken by the militant group Hamas in its Oct. 7 attack that killed 1,200 Israelis.

Participants in the student-led protest — which started at noon and convened at City Hall in the afternoon — said they want their local alderpersons to know that many high schoolers are opposed to continued U.S. funding of Israel’s war in Gaza.

The walkouts are meant to be “pro-peace and pro-humanity,” said the high school senior who led the planning of the protest. They asked not to be named out of fear of online attacks and retribution that other Palestinian students have faced.

“We hope they know that the Chicago youth has spoken loud and proud, and that as representatives of our wards they should do a better job in representing our beliefs and what we stand for,” the student leader said. “We hope that our effort to fulfill our civic duty as high school students that may not yet be able to vote is recognized, and also that our voices are heard and represented.”

Organizers said students from at least 15 schools walked out Tuesday, including Lincoln Park High School, Curie Metropolitan High School, Jones College Prep, Taft High School and Von Steuben Metropolitan Science High School.

Keffiyehs, scarves that represent Palestinian culture, were scattered throughout the crowd of more than 150 students who walked out of Lincoln Park High School, down Lincoln Avenue and toward the office of Ald. Timmy Knudsen (43rd), who has opposed a cease-fire resolution.

Two friends, one donning a black keffiyeh and one donning a red one, said they wanted to use their voices to stand up for those in Gaza.

“Even though we are in a place where we’re safe, Palestinians wake up every day wondering if they will die,” said a sophomore, 16, who didn’t share her name for fear of facing repercussions.

Some Palestinian students reported receiving emails and social media messages calling them Hamas supporters for participating in the cease-fire walkout. At one school, the Anti-Defamation League said an antisemitic picture was sent in a school chat.

But students said they’ve received mostly neutral to positive feedback from administrators and staff. And most students interviewed said they felt safe and expected peaceful interactions among classmates even if their views diverged.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson said in an interview Tuesday with the Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ that he supported the student walkout.

“I’m incredibly proud of our students for exercising their constitutional rights to be able to speak out and speak up for righteousness and speak out against injustice,” he said on City Hall’s fifth floor as students demonstrated downstairs in the lobby.

Johnson became the first major city mayor to call for a cease-fire last week along with the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza. All eyes are now on the City Council’s debate Wednesday.

“As far as the City Council is concerned, they’ll have to make their choice, and each individual gets to decide if they’re going to call for peace,” Johnson said.

Chicago Public Schools officials said students have a right to demonstrate for causes they support. They reiterated that students should respect each other and avoid harmful language. The district said outside groups are prohibited from joining student demonstrations.

“We are a district that is committed to student voice and student participation in civic life and democracy, but harassment, discrimination and bias-based harm have no place in our school communities,” CPS CEO Pedro Martinez wrote in an email to families.

Some kids who participated in the walkouts said one of the goals was to educate classmates and politicians who may be confused about the war or don’t have the context of what the United Nations and human rights groups say is Israel’s 56-year occupation of the Palestinian territories and its 16-year blockade of Gaza.

“Students are seeing how much money our government spends on war, and we’re all scared about college debt, and we’re scared about health care … and we feel the government should be helping us,” said another organizer who also asked not to be named.

Some students said it’s been particularly distressing to see the continual killing of Palestinian children their age. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in November that “Gaza is becoming a graveyard for children.”

“They value our lives a little less,” said a Taft High School student who asked for their name not to be published.

“Thousands and thousands of children [have been killed]. It would basically take like [three] of our Taft High Schools — that’s how many kids we would need to fit all these children,” the student said.

The student said it’s been jarring to see the immediate support for Ukraine at the onset of Russia’s invasion, while solidarity with Palestinians has been harder to find.

“It’s kind of sad that we still have to show people that we’re human, too,” the student said. “But I think it’s necessary, and it’s an effective message for people within the community to know that the next generation does care, and our lives also matter, and our opinions matter, too.”

Hundreds of students met up at City Hall to continue their demonstration, first taking over LaSalle Street then marching around the building and entering the lobby.

Chants of “Ceasefire now” and “Free, Free, Free Palestine” echoed inside the building as students waved Palestinian flags. Then they held a moment of silence for those killed in the war.

Earlier, In Archer Heights on the Southwest Side, about 70 to 80 students from Curie Metropolitan High School walked out of class at noon chanting slogans and carrying signs denouncing Israel and supporting Palestinians.

Kate Mariscal, a junior, said there are innocent people on both sides of the war in Gaza, and that’s why there needs to be a cease-fire.

“We don’t want more war. We want people to stop the war and act peacefully,” Mariscal said. “...We have the ability to say something. If we have to be out here walking every single day, we’re going to do that.”

Michael Puente is a member of WBEZ’s Race, Class & Communities desk.

An earlier version of this story misstated the most current number of people killed in Gaza, based on figures from the Gaza-based health ministry.

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