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On anniversary of Iraq war

Students walk out from coast to coast

Published Mar 29, 2007 12:48 AM

The fourth anniversary of the beginning of the criminal war on Iraq was not observed quietly on many of this country’s university and high school campuses. More than 80 universities and high schools across the U.S. participated in a National Day of Student Action Against the War, initiated by the newly re-founded Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).

Student walkout at UNC-Chapel Hill, March 20.
Photo: Adam Graetz

At a youth and student caucus called for by SDS at this past year’s School of the Americas (SOA) demonstration, more than 100 youth and student organizers from more than 20 universities and high schools came together to discuss how the youth movement would organize around the fourth anniversary of the war. It was unanimously decided by those in the room that SDS would call for a national day of student walkouts on March 20, the fourth anniversary of the war.

The March 20 Call to Action was drawn up and broadly distributed at the beginning of 2007. Like a wildfire the call spread across the U.S., with universities and high schools from New Jersey, Illinois, Alabama, North Carolina, California, Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere organizing demonstrations. In addition to the 84 universities and high schools that officially participated, Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), the Campus Antiwar Network (CAN) and Student Peace Action Network (SPAN), among others, endorsed the day of action.

Nationwide, thousands of students at countless universities and high schools stood up and spoke out on March 20. The movement and broad success of the day of action suggests a strong and deepening spirit of resistance within the youth movement, one that will only continue to grow as the slaughter in Iraq by occupation forces continues.

Chapel Hill, N.C.

Student organizers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) chapter of SDS, along with members of Raleigh FIST—Fight Imperialism, Stand Together—worked for more than a month to build for their walkout. Whether it was plastering fliers around campus, going door-to-door in the university dormitories, working on plans for the day or talking to students and campus organizations about the day of action, organizers worked at a frenzied pace to involve a broad range of students and make March 20 a significant day in the youth movement against the war.

By networking with other campus organizations in Chapel Hill, the walkout received the endorsement of the UNC-CH Black Student Movement (BSM), Solidarity with Palestine through Education and Action at Carolina and Student Action with Workers.

More than 500 youth and students walked out of class and joined an opening rally in the central area of campus, which featured speakers from the endorsing organizations and a spoken word piece by a member of BSM. After being detained by their high school administrators, several students from Raleigh’s Green Hope High School managed to walk out and join the UNC rally in a militant defiance of school conduct codes.

Following the short rally, more than 300 students joined the march through campus. Along the way, the mass of youth and students continued to swell as students joined the march. After snaking through campus, the youth spilled into the streets, first shutting down a major road through the campus and then making its way to a major intersection in the city. The youth occupied the intersection for more than twenty minutes, snarling lunchtime traffic and taking a stand against business as usual.

The march then proceeded down the city’s main street and back towards campus, shutting down roads on campus and getting into scuffles with Chapel Hill and university police. After an hour, the march ended back at the central area of campus for a closing rally and music from a samba drum corps that participated in the march.

Organizers from SDS, FIST and other campus organizations were excited about the large turnout and characterized the day as an overwhelming success. Many of the students who participated said that this action was their first against the war, and that it would certainly not be their last.

Raleigh, N.C.

Organizing for the Raleigh walkout only began recently on the bus ride home from the March on the Pentagon on March 17. Nevertheless, more than 100 students from N.C. State University and three Raleigh high schools—Enloe High, Southeast High and Cardinal-Gibbons Catholic High— walked out of class and gathered at an event organized by Raleigh FIST at N.C. State University’s bell tower on March 20.

More than half of the participating students were from the local high schools. They took a truly militant and courageous stand against U.S. imperialism, a stand that has led to several of them suffering harsh disciplinary consequences from school administrators and parents. Many of these students had previously tried to organize and express their frustrations with the ongoing war in Iraq, with little to no outlet. For most, this was their first anti-war demonstration.

The high school students were the first to make a presence at the rally. Students from N.C. State began to join in, starting a picket on the sidewalk lining Hillsborough Street, a major thoroughfare in downtown Raleigh. University police then demanded that the students disperse. Overwhelmed by the number of students and their vigilance, the police were ignored and students continued their chanting and picketing.

The students marched down the sidewalk towards the main campus. As they passed classrooms, their chants could be heard inside by students and teachers. A university assistant professor, Jordan Hester, told FIST organizers: “My students stopped and watched as you all marched past. Our lecture subject quickly shifted to a discussion about the war.” High-level university bureaucrats and plain-clothes agents attempted to intervene, calling on FIST organizers to stop the chants. Again, fostered by the unity and strength of the students, the chants continued as the march wandered through campus.

Once the students approached the main open area of the university, hundreds of on-looking students gathered as the marchers began chanting, “What do we want? Revolution! When do we want it? Now! And if we don’t get it? Shut it down!” The march continued through the “free expression” tunnel where students rallied and spoke out against the racist war.

Speakers at the rally included members of Raleigh FIST; a visiting youth who was preparing for 60 days in federal prison for being arrested at the School of the Americas protest at Ft. Benning, Ga.; Larkin Coffey, the main student organizer from Enloe High; and Miles Holst, a representative from the newly formed N.C. State SDS chapter. Many of the speakers focused on the racist and class implications of the war, emphasizing the class solidarity necessary to overcome the U.S. war machine. Students left feeling high with revolutionary fervor.

The nationwide student walkouts truly were an expression of student power. Students, united with working people and organized with an internationalist perspective, are taking bold and loud steps to build a movement that is exposing the contradictions of the capitalist system—steps that will inevitably lead to the end of U.S. imperialism.