It was the second day of school at Coliseum College Prep Academy, a high school in Oakland, California, and the classroom conversation was already getting real. Teacher Chela Delgado talked to her class about Bay Area rallies planned this weekend which are likely to draw white supremacists from around the country.
“So I’m curious, do you think that nonviolence can be a successful strategy in this moment?” Delgado asked. “A lot of folks have said that that strategy has not actually helped us. Like we still have racism.”
“I think it will work because we’re not trying to be the violent ones,” said junior Gabriela Ojeda. “We’re trying to be the problem solvers. We’re not trying to let the white supremacists get to us to make us look like the criminals.”
“In Charlottesville, a number of folks were trying to protest non-violently, and then violence occurred,” Delgado said. “So I think if you’re choosing not to participate, that also makes a lot of sense.”
Right now, a lot of teens are having similar conversations with the adults in their lives. Should they take to the streets to oppose the rallies, or avoid the whole thing all together?
A few days ago, I headed over to West Oakland to talk to Moriah Ulinskas, a mom with a long track record of activism. She showed me a homemade banner that said, “Truth Matters,” in big yellow letters. She told me she takes this same banner with her to many protests she attends. The banner is too large for her to hold alone. So, Ulinskas enlists help from her daughter Mila De La Torre, 15. The two of them have gone to a couple of marches together this year. They even flew to DC for the Women’s March in January.
But so far, only De La Torre was down to join this weekend’s protest against racism.
“I felt that [protesting] was really, really important to me because I didn’t want to be a bystander and just let [a white supremacist gathering] happen,” De La Torre said to her mom. “I wanted to go and protest against it.”
“It makes me proud to hear you say all that, but I still don’t want you going,” Ulinskas told her daughter. “It’s not just the [threat of threat of people having] guns. We have a bunch of crazy people descending on our home trying to instigate a fight with us. I’m just not willing to play foil to them or have you do it.”
After I left, they kept talking. And now, Mila does have permission to go to a counter demonstration — one billed as peaceful — at a different site from the far-right rally. She promised to text her mom. A lot.
My friend Sayyid-Ali Abdel-Qawi, 18, is in a different boat with his dad, Matin Abdel-Qawi.
Sayyid asked his dad, “What if I wanted to go and counterprotest these rallies this weekend?”
“Obviously, I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you or anyone else who participates, but I think you should be there,” said Matin Abdel-Qawi. “You should be safe, you should make good decisions, you shouldn’t participate in the violence. But you should be there. You should witness, you should participate and your voice should be heard.”
If he did decide to go, Sayyid asked, “Do you think the rules are different due to my race being African-American?”
“Yes. Different rules apply,” Matin said. “Just like how different rules apply to you in all aspects of your life though. So, definitely going to a protest, you would get targeted by police. Your chance of being arrested is significantly higher, even being in the vicinity you’ll be targeted by white nationalists, you’ll be targeted by everybody. But at the same time, that’s more reason to be there.”
Sayyid says he understands where his dad is coming from. And he seriously considered going face-to-face with white supremacists. But in the end, he’s says he’ll stay home. At least, this time around. Not because he doesn’t care, but because he doesn’t want to become a target.