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3 May 2007

Seattle students walkout against the Iraq war

OVER 800 students walked out of schools throughout Seattle, USA, on 18 April to demand an immediate end to the Iraq war.

Philip Locker and Ramy Khalil for Youth Against War and Racism

The walkout, organised by Youth Against War and Racism (YAWR), culminated in a protest at a meeting of the School Board which called for military recruiters to be kicked out of our schools. The students also protested against the School District's plan to close seven Seattle schools, calling for money for education, not war.

Throughout the day of rallies and marching in Seattle's downtown, the students' energy and enthusiasm was palpable, with non-stop chanting and speeches. Students from over 35 schools joined the walkout, mainly from high schools, though there were also many students from colleges and even a few middle schools.

Unlike many anti-war protests which often draw the same crowd of activists, this walkout succeeded in mobilising hundreds of new students and young people who had been to few protests before, if any.

After a rally and a long march, we rallied outside the Seattle School Board, where there was a concert with amazing music and more speeches. Seattle hip-hop artists RA Scion and Gabriel Teodros, among others, performed.

Throughout the day of rallies many different high school and college students spoke, as well as speakers from Iraq Veterans against the War, Socialist Alternative (the Socialist Party's US counterpart) and Jobs with Justice, among others.

When the School Board meeting started the normally sterile atmosphere of bureaucrats and detached politicians was disrupted when over 125 protestors marched in, chanting: "What do we want? Recruiters out! When do we want it? Now!" - taking over the meeting for several minutes.

The one-hour public comment period was dominated by powerful speeches by students and anti-war activists, frequently interrupted by thunderous applause.

Speaker after speaker demanded the School Board finally take meaningful action against military recruiters and stop the school closures.

School Board members were clearly taken aback by the community's outrage. While they have tried to create the impression that they are listening and will begin enforcing and tightening their policies restricting recruiters, we will definitely need to keep up the pressure on them to make sure they really follow through in deeds, not just in words.

At the same time, a new policy further restricting recruiters' access to Seattle public schools would still be far short of what we want, ie military recruiters out of schools completely.

Media coverage

The protest succeeded in breaking into the local mass media and onto the national Associated Press newswire, with Youth Against War and Racism mentioned as the organisers in several of the stories. Local TV and radio stations carried reports and both of Seattle's daily papers prominently featured the walkout (we made the front cover of the Seattle Times with a large picture, and were on the front of the local section of the Post-Intelligencer), though, as usual, they under-estimated the turnout.

The walkout was endorsed by a wide number of organisations and individuals, including Aaron Dixon (Seattle Black Panther Party founder and Green Party candidate for US Senate in 2006), Veterans for Peace 143, American Friends Service Committee, Team Victory, and Socialist Alternative, as well as a host of other local anti-war and progressive organisations.

But it could not have been achieved without the dedication, sacrifices, and contributions from all the students and activists who helped organise this walkout.


Building a national student walkout

A COMMON theme throughout the day was that mass student walkouts are vital for building a huge anti-war movement of workers and young people. It sends a clear message to the ruling elite that 'business as usual' will stop unless their war ends.

A powerful example of the impact student walkouts can have was shown by the case of Lt. Ehren Watada. Watada has said the previous student walkout Youth Against War and Racism organised in Seattle in November 2005 was what inspired him to take a stand as the first US military officer to refuse to deploy to Iraq.

The walkout rally agreed to issue an appeal to students and anti-war groups across the country to organise a nationwide student walkout and strike against the war in the fall [autumn] of 2007. Many students commented they were very excited to go all out to build a much bigger, stronger, national walkout in the fall.

This would be one year after the American people voted overwhelmingly against the Iraq war in the November 2006 elections, and we will be demanding that Congress finally cuts off the funds for the war and brings all the troops home.

A massive, nationwide student walkout would be an enormous step forward in building the anti-war movement. We are calling on students and anti-war organisations to join us in issuing a call for a national student walkout which we will be circulating soon.

We are also calling on students to organise protests against military recruiters in schools, and to contact us for help, since the School Board refuses to ban military recruitment in schools.




http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/2363