Last Friday students at my alma mater, Wyoming Valley West, took to the streets in protest of the school’s oppressive heat and ever-restrictive dress code. After outside temperatures got into the high 80s, indoor temperatures rose past 100. There were reports of students fainting in class. Schools around the area with faulty air conditioning were let out but WVW had not. Seeing this as an injustice, students left school. The protest garnered local media coverage that Friday and was the hottest local story that day.
I drove up to the school on Monday. The high for that day was 76, much cooler than last week’s temps. I was in the shade when I first stepped outside that morning and thought it was kind of brisk out. It was about 1:15 in the afternoon when I went up to the high school. I rarely make the drive down Route 11 to Plymouth unless I am passing through Plymouth, and I have only seen my high school in passing. In the six years since I graduated, they finished the practice football field and track, tore down the old Main Street elementary school that sat in front of the high school as well as the dilapidated building behind it, and converted an old church on Wadham Street, the street leading up to the building, into the Wyoming Valley West Wellness Center, which a cursory Google search indicates is a dolled up term for weight room. The high school is a spotty, pressure-washed white. Some people say it looks like a spaceship. A concourse runs through the center of the building. I saw one student, polo and khaki clad, lace up his shoes outside the side entrance, a known blind spot, preparing to skip 8th period. There were no protesters out today. There were no signs with memes plastered on criticizing the crumbling school and its lack of air conditioning. Everything was back to normal. The system, as far as anyone could tell, sunk its toes in the sand and waited for things to blow over, which they did. I thought of John Lennon crooning that the dream is over at the end of the song God.
The public response to the protest was less than favorable, with comments from people as old as my parents to people who graduated later than I did(2010), telling those kids to just go to school and stop complaining, because back in their day they didn’t have the entitlement these youngsters have. People typing in sporadic caps to wait until they have a JOB and have to WORK in a UNIFORM for a LIVING. People relating stories about the oppressive conditions they live and work in every day, and how they don’t say anything about it because ‘it’s just what you do.’
And all of these people are the problem of any given protest, because it becomes less about the issues and instead how the all-seeing I perceives the issues. If it isn’t affecting me, or it wasn’t a problem back in my day, it simply isn’t an issue. The great but short lived Wyoming Valley West A/C strike of 2016 is a microcosm of bigger protests, like the Black Lives Matter movement. Some have said that the younger generations are entitled brats because they whine and complain when things aren’t perfect, failing to see that when they were younger, they had it better than their parents did, and so on. The world, overall, is improving with each generation, so why should things specifically be more difficult? Back in my day we had dial-up internet, and back in my sister’s day she didn’t have any internet, and back in my parent’s day they had leaded gasoline, and back in my grandparent’s day they had The Great Depression and World War II, and if we went back a couple generations they wouldn’t have plumbing or electricity.
I graduated high school in 2010. I recall my class as a mostly passive bunch, where privileges the upperclassmen had were slowly stripped by the time we got to where they are. And sure we complained, but we never actually did anything about it. The graduating high school classes today are the years 2017-2020. This is the first generation of youth that social media is ubiquitous. In their eyes, it has existed forever. They have been given numerous platforms to speak their mind on. They have been shown they have a voice, and likes, comments, and reactions show that someone is listening. So when the school tells them that the A/C is broken, they want people to know about it, and they aren’t afraid or ashamed to do it. And good for them.