Wednesday morning, at 10 a.m. local time, students at schools across the country will walk out of their classrooms. The plan is for students to leave school -- or at least gather in the hallway -- for 17 minutes. That's one minute for each of the victims in last month's school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
While this walkout is meant to honor the victims in Parkland, it is also a political call to action according to the organizers, Women's March Youth EMPOWER.
Many schools have declared that students who protest will be suspended. Advocacy groups Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and National Coalition Against Censorship released a new comic book to help protect students' rights. Be Heard! is a free comic by cartoonist Kai Texel that outlines best practices to help kids assert their rights to speech, protest, assembly and petition, warns about risks, and provides resources to get more help.
When Texel was asked to create a comic for students about upcoming protests she was beyond thrilled.
"The comic was made with the intention to help them organize and take the precautionary steps to ensure that they are effectively using their voices. I thought the best way to do this was to make it from the perspective of the students themselves," Texel says.
None other than the queen mother of young adult novels, author Judy Blume -- also a member of the NCAC board of directors -- said in a statement, "This comic book feels just right. It's so important to support and encourage kids on issues that affect their own lives and their country."
"In the U.S., freedom of speech is paramount. The First Amendment states that you can't be arrested for saying things the government doesn't like. It's important that students everywhere know that they have the right to be heard. This comic will help provide them with practical tools to raise their voice," said comic book superstar and legend Neil Gaiman in the same statement.
Added Texel via telephone, "It is extraordinarily powerful to see and hear these young witnesses and victims come forward. I also believe due to the sheer number of people speaking out, there will have to be some changes in the near future. It is my hope that these changes will be enacted very soon."
"Whether students choose to participate in this national movement or not, whether they walk out into the hallway or march to their senator's office, whether they wear orange or write an op-ed for the school paper, this moment is the ultimate First Amendment lesson," said Abena Hutchful, coordinator of NCAC's Youth Free Expression Program and Kids' Right to Read Project. "We hope that teachers will engage with their students in productive ways and we want to make sure that students know what is -- and is not -- protected protest speech in schools."
Be Heard! is available as a free download at CBLDF.org and NCAC.org, and through their social media channels. Follow #StudentsBeHeard for updates.