Not Short and Sweet: A Conversation with Boston Student Organizer Jahi Spaloss (Part 3/3)

Student during the walkouts

This is part three of the second installment of our “Not Short and Sweet” series where we present stories from real students around the country at length and without a filter.

The Student Voice Tour recently left Boston where I had the privilege of interviewing student organizer Jahi Spaloss. You might have seen some of Jahi’s handiwork this past school year when thousands of Boston students walked out of class to protest cuts to education. You can catch part II of the series here

Part III of this conversation with Jahi touches on the walk out, his dealings with the police, and his thoughts on the whole experience. Happy reading!

Andrew: What did you say?

Jahi: I called out the city. I mostly called out the mayor. I was very blunt with a lot of things I said. I said it was complete bullsh*t that we even have the mind to think it’s ok to cut even a penny from public school education. Something that should be the number one priority. The number one thing to be invested into. We are investing in future leaders, future lawyers, doctors, pediatricians, dentist, and hell even maybe the future President of the United States. And yet you want to cut funding? You’re cutting opportunities, you’re cutting hope, you’re literally cutting someone’s future away and you’re saying you have to stay exactly where you are. You’re saying we don’t want you to make a lot of money in the future; we want you to live paycheck to paycheck in minimum wage jobs. We want you to stay impoverished for the rest of your life. That’s what I said.

They were spitting in our faces and then had the audacity to spread rumors that it was the teachers union hypnotizing us.

We are not children. We are young leaders.

Feel lost? Please check out “Part II” of our conversation with Jahi.

Andrew: So national media descended on the walkouts, I remember seeing helicopters. First of all, do you feel like the media was telling y’alls story the way you wanted it to be told?

Jahi: Some, not all. Some tried to twist what I was saying and wanted to push the narrative that the I was an accomplice of the teachers union and that I was a spokesperson just meant to hide their identity. I got into a lot of arguments with a lot of these reporters as well. The one thing I found really annoying about the media is that they wanted just to focus on me. They wanted to make me the face of the entire movement. I’m typically a very humble person and I basically said, I’m not the one who lead that movement. It was the students who lead that movement. I only brought them together. And I helped support them as they supported me.

An organizer is not someone who leads but someone who walks with their people. As an organizer, you are supposed to walk with your people in the struggle because you share the same struggle. It’s not a one-man job. So I refused to just be the only face in the media when there were tons that were part of this.

Andrew: Do you feel like your voices were heard?

Jahi: To a degree. The first time it happened, I felt like our voices weren’t necessarily heard but they were acknowledged. We got out there that this was a serious issue and we became well known. Not only that but we became a threat to Mayor Walsh. He was getting ready to campaign for a second term and because of the walkout movement we actually kind of hurt his chances of being reelected as mayor of the city. Which I actually think is more of a personal problem when you’re cutting public schools. I mean, what’s more important, your job or the future of the children?

But during the second walkout was when we were being taken seriously. The city prepared for us this time. They had a lot of state cops watching over us. Many news media came immediately even before we walked out. We didn’t put out any press releases or media advisories. We just did it. We just advertised on Facebook and this time, it blew up so fast. Boston Public Schools was sending out robotic voice mails about the walkout and such to the parents and telling them that if the kids leave they will be marked absent, and could be suspended or won’t be able to walk at graduation. Which was complete bullsh*t. You shouldn’t take away a kids graduation because they are out there fighting for their schools. It was a complete bluff.

A lot of the schools tried barricading and locking in their students to prevent them from walking out. Of course, I handled that very quickly. Ended up calling the Boston Police and Fire Department to get them to unlock the schools because 1) It’s kidnapping and 2) It’s a fire hazard.

Also I would say the second walkout was more prepared. We had better resources. We had the adults be peacekeepers and overseers of the crowd. They protected the students from any police confrontation. We also gained support from the Mass Lawyers Guild to get students out who were arrested.

Andrew: Did you have students get arrested?

Jahi: This time we only had a couple, the first time we had 14. They were arrested because some of the cops actually went up and tried to start fights with the students in the crowd. Some of them even joked saying “I could easily just hit you with this baton and take you in for resisting arrest.”

Andrew: How’d you handle that?

Jahi: Honestly I told the students to just remain calm and patient because what they want to see is a reaction out of you. They want you to over react. Don’t give them that satisfaction. Don’t let them twist the law on you.

Also, the other thing is that when you have so many students coming together, you are gonna have some that have a beef with others for personal reasons and such. This is something I noticed a lot at the walk out because towards the end of the marches I saw a few fights erupt between a few students. One thing I said was, please, put your personal beef aside. Understand that this is a real movement. And I want all of you to be a part of it. I want you guys to show solidarity with each other and love for each other.

The safety of the kids was my biggest concern more than anything.

Andrew: So what happened with the budget?

Jahi: The budget cuts got cut down. It went from 55 billion to only 12 million dollars, but I’m still not satisfied until it’s at a complete zero. So we are still doing future campaigning, we are still planning action of what we are going to do next. When you take this money away, you’re affecting what students can carry away from school. Their foundation.

Andrew: Is there anything else you want to say?

Jahi: Honestly, I guess the only thing is really…the fight is never over. There is no fight, there is no movement unless you’re struggling. Unless you can keep that love in the face of so much negativity and hate. And you’ve got to focus your eyes on the prize, and you can keep moving forward regardless of what ever happens to you.

Stay tuned for the next installment of our “Not Short and Sweet” series.