Student protest Wednesday becomes a walkout of one
Marcos Sanchez strives to live by his convictions. A senior at John F. Kennedy High School in Mount Angel, Sanchez has long been a pro-life advocate, but only recently has become more active in taking a stand.
His belief pushed him to found the high school's JFK for Life club, an organization dedicated to respecting the dignity of human life in all forms, during his junior year.
"I stopped being just a passive pro-lifer and started as an active pro-lifer and became a person who is not afraid to take a stance and voice my opinion on this human rights injustice," Sanchez said.
It's this belief that also propelled Sanchez to join the Student for Life of America-sponsored national walkout April 11. Organizers coordinated with student leaders across the country to walk out of their classrooms at 10 a.m. local time for 15 minutes of silence, approximately one second, Sanchez said, for every abortion performed each day by Planned Parenthood, the national nonprofit that provides reproductive health care, including abortion services.
"We are walking out to raise awareness of the cruel practices that happen every day through abortion, which hurts both mother and preborn child," Sanchez wrote in a press release the week before the walkout. "We demand action to be taken to defund Planned Parenthood and reallocate taxpayer money to federally qualified health centers."
Organizers said the walkout was organized in part to test if public schools hold pro-life activism to a different standard than other causes, notably the March 14 student walkout that called for stricter gun control laws and honored those killed in the February mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
The pro-life walkout fell in line with the principles supported by the JFK for Life club, and Sanchez was hoping he could convince some of the club's 40 members to join him in the protest. But in the week leading up to the event, it became clear that if he was intending to walk out from his class, he would be doing so alone.
"I had a little bit of hope that maybe one or two students would walk out with me," Sanchez said last Wednesday. "But as Tuesday came around and then this morning — (I realized) it's just going to be me, and I'm OK with that."
Sanchez knew it would be a difficult sell for many of his peers at Kennedy High School, where athletics play a vital part of the school's culture. Students involved in the walkout would be given an unexcused absence for leaving class, which would disqualify them from participating in athletic events that day.
"It is very important that everyone clearly understands that any absence due to a walkout is treated the same as any other unexcused absence," Kennedy Principal Sean Aker said in an email.
With baseball and softball games scheduled that afternoon, it was tough for Sanchez to convince his classmates to give up a game in favor of participating in the movement.
"I was mentally preparing myself to be the only person pretty much," Sanchez said. "I wish I could say that I was disappointed or something, but that's kind of what I expected."
But Sanchez wasn't totally alone in his walkout on Wednesday. Students from more than 400 high schools and universities across the country participated in the walkout, and Sanchez was supported by one Mount Angel family who joined him in solidarity in front of Kennedy High School.
This walkout was the continuation of activism that has taken him across the state, speaking at a pro life rally in Portland last year, participating at pro-life conferences, praying outside Planned Parenthood facilities and gathering donations for pregnancy resource centers. Sanchez is already thinking about starting a pro-life club at Chemeketa Community College when he begins classes there this fall and is considering the steps it would take to pursue pro-life activism as a career.
"I know I'm going to continue to be active," Sanchez said. "I'm trying to take advantage of every opportunity there is to speak up for life and defend it."