Decatur students rally at Liberty Plaza during “Hands off Georgia” protest


On Feb. 25, over 250 Decatur High School students missed their morning classes and spent hours standing and marching near the state capitol. The reason? House Bills 888 and 1084, passed in the Georgia House of Representatives in order to have further control of school curriculum. For the organizers of the event, the turnout was much larger than expected, and turned out to be a pleasant surprise after less than two weeks of planning. 


At 8:45 a.m., organizers Kaya Desai and Katie Guenthner were outside the school with a few posters waiting for students to walk out. They had “no idea” what the turnout would be, but Desai said they were aiming for at least 50 students, considering they had only been planning the protest for two weeks.


By 9:20, a crowd of over 200 students had gathered at the Decatur Marta station. Right before boarding the train, organizer Vinessa Taylor addressed the crowd, briefing students about their role in the protest. Taylor discussed how protesters should not talk to the media or mention the words “Critical Race Theory”. As her justification, Taylor told students that the media would blow their quotes out of proportion, and that the organizers should be the only spokespeople for the event. The term “Critical Race Theory” itself is a misnomer, as it is an academic concept seldom taught in any primary or secondary education, and is often used as a guise for undermining the teaching of mainstream concepts such as systemic racism and white privilege.


The first group of Decatur students arrived at 9:40, joining several students from surrounding schools, including Paideia and North Atlanta.


A second, smaller group of Decatur students arrived at Liberty Plaza at 10:00, only a few minutes before the speeches began. 


Organizer Ana Villavasso opened the speeches with quotes by writers Amanda Gorman and Ta-Nehisi Coates, before shifting gears into a critique of censorship. Censorship was a major focus of the protest overall, which was entitled “Hands Off Georgia”. Villavasso declared that the bill would place schools in “constant fear” of losing funding, risking the rights of teachers and students.


Also present were both state representatives from Decatur, Becky Evans and Mary Margaret Oliver, who both pledged to vote against the house bills. As of Mar. 13, House Bill 1084 has passed in the House of Representatives and House Bill 888 has not yet been voted on.


At 10:55, the crowd began to March around downtown Atlanta, ending on the steps of the Georgia state capitol building after 30 minutes. The crowd chanted at the steps for 15 minutes before returning to school via Marta. 


Villavasso explained why she decided to organize the protest.


“I’m the co-founder of a club at our school called STAR, or Students Talking about Race, which actively creates a space for conversations about race, as it relates to education, social media, pop culture, politics and more,” Villavasso said. “These conversations, unlike the anxieties of those who encourage this bill, have been enlightening for all students of all races. In no way does this club make others feel guilty.”