Some of the teenagers participated in forming a so-called hassle line, a practice that dates back to the Civil Rights Movement era.
Dozens of teenagers spent their Sunday afternoon at Seattle University hurling insults at each other. Fortunately, it was for a good cause.
Some of the student participants in the third annual Kids4Peace Martin Luther King Youth Advocacy Workshop attacked their partner’s clothing, or height. Others insulted the Seattle Seahawks, yelling at increasing volume to try and get a rise out of the “victims.”
Others demanded that their partners “speak in English,” much like real-world incidents that have been captured by bystanders and circulated on social media.
All of it was part of a so-called hassle line, an anti-harassment training exercise dating to the civil-rights-movement era and stemming from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance. The exercise involves lining up students in two lines facing each other, with those on one side acting as the bullies opposite the victims.
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Under the direction of moderators from the Seattle chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, participants separated into victims and bullies, taking turns yelling at each other in mock harassment. Afterward, they spoke about how it felt to bully and be bullied while remaining silent.
The hassle line was just one scenario that some of the 40 secondary and high-school-aged students who participated were thrown into at the training session. Organizers say it was designed to teach young people how to respond when they see someone being publicly attacked, bullied or harassed, and how not to.
As part of the session, students discussed how to be a good bystander, when to call authorities and how to support the person being targeted. They also learned how to combat what moderators called the bystander effect, where witnesses to harassment expect that someone else will intervene and no one does.
It’s important for students to be able to recognize harassment and bullying and safely respond when it happens, 16-year-old Catie Macauley, a Kids4Peace student organizer, said.
“Having these skills empowers kids to be able to do something and effect change in the community, and that’s especially important now,” she said.
Reported hate crimes are on the rise across Washington and the nation. Hate crimes increased in Washington by 32 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to the FBI.
As part of the session, the student participants discussed why the numbers are going up, how they respond to them and how doing so honors King’s legacy.
The group also held separate workshops on political lobbying and journalism.
Susan Bloch, whose granddaughter is a Kids4Peace member, said young people are in a better position than adults to respond to harassment.
“They can talk and share in ways that cut across divisions in ways that are truly inspiring,” she said.
At the end of the training, the student participants were asked to write how they would implement lessons taken from the workshop.
“Maybe the most important thing for today is how we move forward to honor King’s work,” Macauley said.