In the landscape of ridiculousness that we see in our nation lately, one would think that a quiet county in a more rural part of the metro Richmond area would stay just that way: quiet. But someone saw fit to make some noise in our little slice of RVA. It’s really just agitators who want attention. The fact that I’m writing this post is nonsensical in that it gives these folks what they want most. Alas, I present my case:
My daughter called me as soon as she got to school Friday morning. It seems that our regional agitator, who has been making his rounds to all of the area high schools, finally landed at ours. He and his buddy, both older white men, held signs, one with “F*ck Biden” on one side and an image of an aborted fetus on the other, and the other sign simply saying “Infowars.” Today, they also had a camera, and were apparently filming any of the students who chose to heckle them. (If you don’t know, Infowars is the far right “news media” organization founded by Alex Jones that pushes conspiracy theories. They have been banned by all legitimate social media websites for the level of misinformation they peddle.)
How is this legal, you might ask, for these men to be on school property? Well, it literally pushes the boundaries of what is lawful. Confirmed by the school, protesting on the easement, that is, the 10’ border between the school grounds and the road, is perfectly legal, no matter how vulgar the signs. “Our hands are tied,” stated the school administration. It’s the equivalent of preschool children who are asked to not touch each other, and the teacher yells at Johnny because he’s got his finger an inch from Sally’s arm, ready to poke her, but insists that since he’s not actually touching her, he’s not breaking the teacher’s rules. Sigh.
The school would never allow such language or images on school grounds. So why is the easement in play? Our schools are evolving into a political playground.
The recent school board vote to allow a far right religious organization to review our public school system’s policies on equity is a signal, whether the board will admit it or not. It’s administrative choices like these that help to embolden these agitators. The leaders of our county, not only in this vote, but also in allowing things like the display of non-campaign related political signs on our roadways, with school board members proclaiming our county as “God’s country,” creates a culture that makes folks like this think our county is a safe space for them to spew hate. I’m in support of freedom of speech, but where do we draw the line? When does free speech become hate speech?
The same school system that claims their “hands are tied” suspended several students for 2-4 days last week for participating in a peaceful protest of that very school board decision, for merely sticking up for their trans and non-binary peers. It seems hypocritical to me, especially when other counties and cities with similar protests on the same day respected the rights of students to participate in civil discourse, as it is a lesson in how we participate in American democracy.
Why is one action that spreads hate and misinformation lawful, and the other protest, an action of love and respect for their fellow students, deemed so despicable that the students are suspended? Are we telling our kids that it’s fine for grownups to protest, no matter how vulgar the gesture, but not them? Students don’t have equal rights in protesting?
If we can’t arrive at answers to these questions that keep our students safe and free from harassment by strangers while on school grounds, while also allowing our students avenues for civil discourse, maybe we need to change the laws.
This opens up a whole mess of shades of gray. What is right? What is wrong? I say, it’s right for our kids to protest on school grounds about a violation of their rights or the rights of their peers, especially in their environment. The line gets drawn for me when strangers who don’t even live in our community come to the school for the sole purpose to agitate and intimidate. My child did not need to see the images she saw as she started her school day. It left her feeling vulnerable, especially knowing that these men had cameras rolling. Our kids deserve protection from people like this in a place that is supposed to be safe: their public school. This is yet another example of someone who has chosen to chip away at social norms and decency, simply for a few moments of fame, and in this case at the expense of school children. Just because something is “legal” doesn’t make it “right,” or even decent. Sigh.
Is this like the internet trolls? If we ignore them, will they go away? We shall see. I don’t have hope, though.
As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.