By Jess Kung Multimedia Manager
At 10 a.m. on March 14, students across the country walked out of their classes for at least 17 minutes in honor of the 17 victims of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. According to protest organizers from the Women’s March Youth program, students were demanding that Congress ban assault weapons, expand background checks, and enact other policies against gun violence.
While many schools condoned or encouraged the walkout, some forbade students from participating, citing the loss of class time and safety concerns. Some proposed alternative forms of engagement. One particular form was the #WalkUpNotOut campaign, which encourages classmates to “walk up” to fellow classmates who seem “lonely.”
This campaign, in the wake of a school shooting, implies that because I was a weirdo misanthrope, I was a potential threat to everyone’s safety. It implies that people have a responsibility to be nice to me.
The idea is that if students are nicer, and kids are bullied less, there will be less violence in schools. That sentence really hurt to write. No matter how one feels about the practice of protest, the walkout has specific policy demands. “Just be nice” is a great thought, but it does not address the urgency of gun violence, or anything about the circumstances of the Stoneman Douglas shooting.
It seems so fine and fair and easy to go with this philosophy. Wouldn’t the world be better if everyone was just a little dang kinder? Why would you be against it? What, are you against human kindness?
For most of middle school, even my mom described me as a “loner.” I always ate lunch by myself. I never had voluntary partners for anything. I was quiet, but also snarky and mean. I had a history of both being bullied and publicly humiliated while also being a violent bully myself.
If I was that kid, internet savvy and somewhat aware of current events, in 2018, #WalkUpNotOut would probably have destroyed me. This campaign, in the wake of a school shooting, implies that because I was a weirdo misanthrope, I was a potential threat to everyone’s safety. It implies that people have a responsibility to be nice to me.
The problems at hand are that lonely kids are becoming radicalized in internet communities, and seen as potential threats because lax gun laws allow them easy access to guns.
Even now, it fills me with a swirling bile. In middle school, I had been the subject of some charity friendship offerings and it was unimaginably condescending. What actually helped me was not being artificially jumped into the general social population, it was teachers opening up their classrooms at lunch and creating safe spaces for the weirdos.
The problems at hand are that lonely kids are becoming radicalized in internet communities, and seen as potential threats because lax gun laws allow them easy access to guns. When you bring up “being nice” to the lonely kids, what you’re doing is telling all of those kids, regardless of circumstance, that the reason people should be nice to them is so that they don’t become a danger. You make reaching out to those kids heroic, like jumping on a bomb. And it hurts so, so much more than being alone in the first place.
This kind of movement, of embracing niceness and kindness, is almost always, at its core, a distraction from more difficult, polarizing ideas that aim to change the status quo. In the wake of horrific violence, it is time to fight and protest and demand tangible policy change. Find a better time to tell kids to be nice.