YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Stirring Up Activist Passion in Today's Youth : Some may be using protests of ballot initiative on illegal immigrants as a way to cut classes. But others agree with the student who says, 'It'll be another Holocaust-type of thing, pointing fingers and saying, "Let me check your papers." '


Santa Ana High School senior Jackie Rodriguez had never spoken out publicly on a social issue before.

But with Proposition 187, the ballot measure that would deny health care and education to illegal immigrants, she says she simply can't remain silent.

"This is the first time I'm really angry at something," says Rodriguez, who expressed her views on the initiative at an open student forum Wednesday in the Santa Ana High School gym.

Rodriguez has several friends who are illegals. "That's why I'm really angry," she says. "I think everybody is just focusing on how much money they have in their pockets and they're forgetting about the human race."

It's hard to recall another issue in recent years that has galvanized so many high school students throughout California, most making their first foray into political activism. In the largest protest yet, 10,000 students in Los Angeles and Orange counties walked off campus or demonstrated Wednesday against Proposition 187.

But although some observers may question whether many among the marching legions of adolescents are joining walkouts merely as an excuse to cut classes, there's no denying the passions that have been aroused by the initiative.

Students are voicing their opinions on Proposition 187 in campus forums, in classrooms and in the hallways.

"One person brings it up and it triggers everybody to start talking about it," says Dago Rodriguez, senior class president at Century High School in Santa Ana, where an informational forum on the initiative Wednesday didn't prevent some students from also walking out.

At Century, where 89% of the students are Latino, Rodriguez says Proposition 187 is "a very hot issue.

"I'm against it," he says. "I think there are better ways to deal with (illegal immigration) than through the schools. Teachers are going to have to report (illegal students), they're going to be checking. It'll be another Holocaust-type of thing, pointing fingers and saying, 'Let me check your papers.' "

Century High School Principal Thomas Reasin says, "Our students have the potential of being very affected by the decision. Because of that they are all very concerned. To many families, this is a real volatile issue and students, as you've seen across the state, have been demonstrating because they're impassioned about their position and their feelings about this."


With student activism at a headline-grabbing high, the stereotype of politically apathetic young people seems to have been squashed.

But a UC Irvine political scientist says not to make too much of the recent wave of student walkouts.

"I wouldn't start revising our assessments of apathy on high school or college campuses," says Mark Petracca, associate professor of political science. "Let's face it, you could probably get the majority of students to walk out of class just for the sake of walking out of class."

That's not to doubt the sincerity of many of the student marchers, says Petracca.

But, he says, "I think the higher standard of activism to look for would be to discover how many of these students when they leave school, instead of going out and hanging on the corner or doing what they might conventionally do, are going down to political campaign headquarters to help pass out literature.

"I don't know the answer to that, but in my mind that's a much better measure of interest than getting kids to walk out of class."

There is, he says, a group mentality at work in a walkout, "kind of a cattle call of people following each other."

By participating in a walkout, he says, "You're part of something bigger than yourself, which is part of what may give these kids a sense of identity. But it's fundamentally fairly easy to walk out of school. It's much harder to devote a portion of your free time to a political movement whether it's a candidate or Proposition 187 or anything else."

Petracca views an open student forum such as the one held at Santa Ana High School as being "a slightly more serious investment on everyone's part.

"It sounds like they're using the teach-in model, which has some educational merit to it, and it could well be that during the exchange that transpired, believe it or not, some learning might have occurred."


Since the waning days of the Vietnam War in the early '70s and Watergate, Petracca says student protests largely have been over local issues. He recalls protests over college tuition hikes and demonstrations in support of hiring minority faculty and expanding minority-oriented programs.

He doesn't recall any major protests among high school students, but he can see why student demonstrations have cropped up over Proposition 187.

"The issue hits home," he says. "It hits home because, first of all, it strikes directly at education. Remember, for most teen-agers this is a time period in which they're very much grappling with their own self-identity, and this initiative challenges that self-identity.

Los Angeles Times Articles