US: Thousands Walkout Against War

Students organize walkouts in 8 cities

Thousands of high school students in Minneapolis, Seattle, and other U.S. cities walked out of classes on Friday, November 16 to demand an end to the war in Iraq, protest the presence of military recruiters in schools, and call for money for education, not war.

The walkouts were part of a national day of action called by Youth Against War and Racism (YAWR) and a coalition of antiwar organizations in coordination with the national Iraq Moratorium protests called for the third Friday of every month.

Students organized walkouts in at least 8 cities or counties: Brattleboro (Vermont), Boston, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and numerous cities in Washington State, including Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Whatcom County, and Lewis County. Socialist Alternative played a central role in organizing these walkouts in a number of areas.

In Seattle, approximately 600 students from over 30 high schools and nearly 10 universities and colleges walked out of classes at noon and converged for a spirited rally and march. After the rally, demonstrators marched to a military recruiting station chanting, "Hey recruiters, we’re no fools! Get your lies out of our schools!" and "Stop, stop, stop recruiting the poor! Fight the rich, not their wars!"

Students rallied outside the military recruiting station to demand that the government create living-wage jobs and increase funding for education instead of sending military recruiters into schools and communities with exaggerated promises of college financial aid and future careers. The march succeeded in shutting the recruiting station down for the day.

Protesting against military recruitment was a major focus of the walkout. Socialist Alternative has been actively campaigning, alongside other anti-war groups, to kick military recruiters out of schools. In Seattle, activists won an important victory this summer when the school board restricted recruiters’ access to schools following an ongoing campaign and a walkout of 800 students in April. In Minneapolis/St. Paul there is an ongoing campaign to force the school board to pass restrictions on recruiters’ access.

The walkout the walkout drew over 1000 students from Minneapolis/St. Paul (scandalously, the police reported only 200!) from over 40 high schools (and even middle schools), as well as 15 colleges. In contrast to a lot of other anti-war demonstrations recently, the energy and loud chants lasted for the entire two-mile march.

High school students and Socialist Alternative members in Tacoma, Washington, a predominantly military town, also organized a protest of nearly 100 students and community members outside a recruiting station.

In Olympia, Washington, where there have been brutal attacks by the police on protesters attempting to block the transport of military cargo through the Port of Olympia, 300-400 students walked out, including a group of about a dozen 9-year olds who organized a protest outside their elementary school.

Kristin Ebeling, a YAWR activist and Socialist Alternative member from the University of Washington, said: "Making this statement is more important that any math problem we will ever do. It’s up to us to say, no, we don’t want our generation in Iraq. We want them home, going to college, getting jobs, [we] want them to get social services. We don’t want to spend money on this war–spend it on education and books and teachers."

Socialist Alternative speakers at the walkouts explained how the failure of the Democratic Congress to cut the war funds is rooted in their defense of U.S. imperialism, and the importance of the walkouts as a pointer to moving the antiwar movement into active resistance to the war machine.

These walkouts received an impressive amount of coverage in the mass media, reaching hundreds of thousands of ordinary working people, soldiers, and military families with our demands to bring the troops home now, kick military recruiters out of schools, and provide money for education, not war (see below for media coverage).

For the vast majority of high school students who came, this was their first protest, and they came with passion and energy. Amy Englesberg, a high school senior, told the Bellingham Herald, "I’ve been angry for many, many years about our administration and so have lots of youth. I’m really frustrated, for one, because I can’t vote for President or legislators, but I can make a stand for what I believe in."

Student activists organized this walkout to embolden even more students, workers, soldiers and military families to stand up and refuse to cooperate with this war. Lieutenant Ehren Watada became the first officer in the country to refuse to fight in Iraq after he was inspired by the student walkout YAWR organized in Seattle in 2005.

Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, some of whom had been injured in Iraq, spoke about how the best way to support the troops is to get them out of Iraq immediately. Reverend Robert Jeffrey from the New Hope Church gave a rousing speech at the Seattle rally about the injustice of the government spending over $500 billion on the Iraq war while working people and people of color struggle to pay for basic needs like food, housing, and healthcare. Aaron Dixon, the co-founder of the Seattle Black Panther Party, spoke about the need for people of all races to unite against this war and racism. Last year Dixon ran for U.S. Senate as an independent Green Party antiwar candidate against Washington’s Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell who supports the war.

Unfortunately, some students faced threats of discipline and suspension from school administrators and parents for walking out of school. In Tukwila, Washington, where 200 students walked out, the principal and superintendent have threatened to fire several teachers after the walkout. Stay tuned for details on the solidarity campaign!.

All in all, the student walkout was a positive, successful step toward turning the overwhelming public sentiment against the war into a more active, visible opposition in the streets. However, in order to end this war, we need to show the ruling class in the U.S. that millions of students, workers, and soldiers will no longer allow "business as usual" to continue while they kill thousands of Iraqis and Americans and waste hundreds of billions of dollars just so they can control Middle East oil supplies. This will mean the anti-war movement taking up the tactic of walkouts on a mass scale, as well as building a political alternative to the Democrats and Republicans, the two parties of war and big business.

All links open in a new window

Television coverage: KOMO 4

Video report for Twin Cities Daily Planet

Photos from Minneapolis

YouTube videos

Seattle P-I

The Olympian

Minnesota Public Radio article

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December 2007