Student Walkout Organizer: “We don’t leave our humanity at the door of a school” Student Walkout Rally organized by Chi-RADS (Photo credit: Oscar Sanchez)

Student Walkout Organizer: “We don’t leave our humanity at the door of a school”

On Friday, January 14, 2022, approximately 300 students joined a walkout and marched to CPS headquarters in Downtown Chicago. The student walkout was coordinated by the Chicago Public School’s Radical Youth Alliance (Chi-RADS) in response to the school district’s return to in-person teaching amidst the Omicron variant case surge, according to their public declaration.

Chi-RADS was established in a matter of days by student organizers in Chicago Public Schools. As a democratic organization, every school involved in the walkout had one delegate coordinating with Chi-RADS.

Co-founder Catlyn Savado asserts that the Chi-RADS was able to organize the student walkout so quickly because it represents the broader concerns of Black and brown students. According to Savado, Chi-RADS seeks to reimagine education beyond merely offering a better response to the pandemic. Their demands include greater access to Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards for food security, food deserts in Black communities, free CTA transportation for all students, and free access to WIFI.

“It’s not only about COVID safety, or students’ physical health, but also students’ mental, spiritual, and structural health. It’s about making sure that we are investing into the infrastructures that are now leaking out. This is why we’re seeing what we’re seeing, because our infrastructure was not built to maintain crisis after crisis. And worse, it produces crisis after crisis…All of these things that go beyond the pandemic. All of these things that go beyond our physical health. But they also apply to structural health, to creating a sustainable infrastructure and sustainable communities and sustainable schools.”

When asked what an ideal classroom might look like, Savado zoomed out to start by considering the question from a historical perspective.

“We know, based on history, that our ancestors were seen as three-fifths of a human. So just imagine hundreds years later when you have the descendants of those folks sitting within our classrooms. And they are still treated as such. So acknowledgement of everyone’s humanity, everyone’s brains, everyone’s heart, everyone’s souls is just the number one key to how we build infrastructure and how the infrastructure of our classrooms should look.”

Reflecting on how modern school programs are structured, Savado also drew comparisons to organizing and work.

“Classrooms should not be ‘learn, learn, learn,’ the way that organizing is not ‘fight, fight, fight’. You build relationships, you build human connections. Education is not an environment where you sit kids in the classroom for 55 minutes and they’re supposed to ‘work, work, work’. …We are so caught up in the idea of ‘work, work, work, fight, fight, fight’, instead of building. Instead of learning, instead of being nourished we are constantly at work, you’re constantly at fight, and you constantly battle.”

Savado criticized the school system for replicating our capitalist system down to its org chart.

“We have the CEO and the mayor who sit at the top, you have the school administrators, and then you have the teachers who are the workers. And then you have the students, right. And if we’re talking about the teachers being workers, then the students are what is being produced…But this is not a factory. Why do we need a CEO? What’s giving the company its money is the production, and so that’s why they were so big on getting us back into the classroom, right? They wanted their money, they weren’t getting any money on remote learning. In fact, they had to give out the money on the EBT cards, the computers…I think that that’s why it’s so important that students are doing this because we are the production.”

Student walkout rally photo of Catlyn Savado
Catlyn Savado at the student walkout (Photo credit: Raven Geary)

An accomplished organizer at age 14, Savado wishes that they could spend their time spending time with friends instead of fighting for liberation. They are quick to offer their thoughts on baking, stuffed animals, and their favorite color.

“Yellow, I love yellow. Yellow reminds me of sunshine, and rainbows, and unicorns.”

In contrast to many progressive organizations which have designated spaces for youth involvement, Chi-RADS is a genuinely student-led organization which centers the importance of childhood and the insight of young people into their own oppression. Savado urges adult organizers to check in on Chi-RADS, as student organizers are engaged in the same struggle as they are, all while dealing with the challenges of growing up under capitalism.

“We don’t leave our humanity at the door of a school. We feel things. We see things, we hear things and we have emotions, and we have a whole world that belongs to us. We don’t just want certain parts of the city. That’s not fair. We don’t just belong to Englewood, and out west, and Washington Heights, and all these other neighborhoods. We belong all across the city. This is our city too. And I think that, that’s something that we’re going to be acknowledging at the action today. Downtown is as much our territory. Ain’t no territories no more. Richard Daley ain’t in office no more. I could be in Lincoln Park, if I wanted. I could be in Albany Park. I could be in Brownsville. I could be in Little Village. No matter where I’m at, this my hood, this my city, and this is my community.”