2016 | Schools

Students Say They Protested Trump’s Divisive Rhetoric

A nearly five-hour march from Montgomery Blair High School ended at Veterans Plaza in downtown Silver Spring

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Montgomery County students gathered at Veterans Plaza following a nearly 6-mile march through the county to protest Donald Trump. Credit: Andrew Metcalf

The hundreds of students who walked out of classes Monday morning at three Montgomery County public high schools took a winding route through Silver Spring and Wheaton to deliver their message protesting the election of Donald Trump.

It started around 10 a.m. Monday when hundreds of students gathered on the football field at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring.

Eliot Sealls, a Blair sophomore, said the school allowed the students to go to the field and had allocated about an hour for them to protest—about the length of a school period. A note from Blair Principal Renay Johnson to parents said the school sanctioned a one-hour protest on the field.

“To ensure their safety, which is our TOP priority, we are providing a safe place (our stadium) for students,” the note said. However, students didn’t stay on the field.

“Then we all walked off the field,” Jorge Ventura, a Blair freshman, said.

The students swarmed University Boulevard and marched northwest along the road to Northwood High School—Blair’s rival—where many Northwood students had already heard about the march through Snapchat and other social media apps. County police closed lanes as the students moved along the road.

Jared Flores, a Northwood freshman, said he joined the protest as the Blair group passed.

“I thought it was great that rival schools are here getting together to support a cause,” Flores said.

After passing Northwood, the group continued on University Boulevard to Westfield Wheaton mall, where they flooded a parking structure and formed a group. Videos posted to social media showed the students chanting “This is what Democracy looks like!” and “Not my president!”

Nicole Guthrie, an Albert Einstein High School freshman, said she was starting lunch when she decided to join the protest with her classmates and fellow freshmen, Ella Robinson, Ella Kirkendall and Clare Kirk. The girls said they saw a stream of messages about the protest on Snapchat. Einstein High School is located several blocks from the mall.

The four girls estimated about a hundred students from Einstein left classes and joined the group at Westfield Wheaton.

From there, the group of several hundred students marched south along Georgia Avenue, with police escorting them and closing off lanes on the road to stop traffic. Around 1 p.m. the students arrived in Veterans Plaza in Silver Spring, a trek of more than 6 miles for the Blair students who first left the football field. At the plaza, students held protest signs and were cheered on by adults who walked through the public space.

Related: Scenes from the Blair, Northwood protest of Donald Trump

The students said they were motivated to protest by Trump’s divisive rhetoric. Among other campaign rhetoric, the president-elect has said he wants to ban Muslims from entering the country and deport millions of illegal immigrants. He has also made disparaging remarks about women.

The students’ schools are among the most diverse in the county—Blair’s population is 25 percent black and 32 percent Latino, Northwood is 24 percent black and 53 percent Latino, and Einstein is 20 percent black and 47 percent Latino.

“A lot of immigrants come to this country for jobs and an education,” Ventura said. “They work, so don’t judge a book by its cover.” He held a sign during the protest that said “Without immigrants, Trump would have no wife.”

Robinson said the mood at Einstein High School was somber last week after Trump’s victory—“it was sad, people were depressed and nobody laughed.”

She said she joined the protest to give herself a voice—as a 14-year-old, she can’t vote.

“At first we were saying ‘Let’s go to D.C.,’ but realized that’s not possible,” Robinson said at Veterans Plaza. She and the other girls said their feet hurt after the march. “This is one thing we believe in, though, that we’re willing to fight for.”

“It’s terrifying being a girl in this world,” Guthrie said. “Trump has made disgusting comments about women and that tells other men it’s OK to do that by having him in office.”

Guthrie said the protest showed that “every single voice mattered” because individuals became a group that developed into a large crowd.

Blair sophomore Denba Mbodje said he didn’t think students joined the protest just to skip school.

“You wouldn’t walk miles just to get out of school,” Mbodje said.

By 2 p.m., most of the students were leaving the plaza. Sealls, Ventura, Flores and Mbodje said they would head home. Police reported no significant incidents during the nonviolent protest.

Montgomery County Public Schools spokesman Derek Turner said students who marched on the protest would receive an unexcused absence from school unless a parent writes them a note to excuse the absence.

The events left one local lawmaker impressed. State Del. Will Smith arrived at the protest on Monday afternoon to encourage the students.

“I think it’s amazing, it’s good to see the next generation so plugged in and engaged,” Smith said. “It gives us hope. It’s been peaceful, the whole thing has been peaceful, so nothing can be taken away from the students who organized this.”