Students Respond to Five Years of War

April 1st, 2008 - by admin

Peace Action – 2008-04-01 21:47:43

Building Bridges & Blocking Roads in the Face of Five Years of War

Students, especially those in high school, have a unique perspective on war. Those living in marginalized communities are targeted by military recruiters through their school system; a system which has suffered drastic budget cuts to pay for the occupation of Iraq, resulting in fewer supplies, crowded classrooms, and underpaid teachers.

March 19th, 2008 marked the 5th anniversary of the US occupation of Iraq. Young activists, of all communities, came together that day to stand in solidarity and resist the institutions that perpetuate and profit from war with coordinated acts of non-violent civil resistance.

At 8 AM SPAN activists began blocking traffic in the K street corridor. They toured the buildings of Halliburton, Bechtel and Blackwater passing out invitations to a “War Profiteer of the Year Award Ceremony” later that day. Through driving rain and wind they walked with hundreds of other young activists performing street theater, beautifying the street, educating the public and disrupting business as usual.

By 5:30 PM no one in our group had been arrested but the streets were beginning to clear. No traffic blocks were planned for the evening. The idea was to keep people out of work – not away from their families. The reaction from DC residents was reflected in the signs of the K St. office windows, “troops home now” and “we support you”.

The press for the event was extensive but shallow. No story reflected the solidarity and excitement of the day. The police, protesters & commuters – the whole Nation – knows the link between our economic crisis and the record breaking profits of these war profiteers is not arbitrary.

They know we are just and right to block traffic; that at this point continuous pressure tactics are our only avenue to change. Peace cannot relent while war rages — we built our movement, and our power, by sacrificing with one another to bring constant attention to injustice.

A Sustainable Anti-Nuclear Movement Starts with Students

Think Outside the Bomb is a nuclear abolition conference lead by (and free to) students and young professionals. Students, generally, are engaged in issues like Iraq, the environment and human rights. For activists born after the Cold War, a nuclear arms race is abstract and distant.

Each year the conference narrows this gap by providing students with the background and tools to work on nuclear issues in a variety of personal and professional ways. Through workshops, panels and strategy planning sessions the conference connects nuclear issues to attendees’ communities. Anxiety still looms over the American public because of North Korea’s nuclear program; and yet there is a lack of interest in the fact that the US is currently trying to rejuvenate our own stockpile.

Last year a SPAN delegation attended Think Outside the Bomb in Santa Barbara and came back with innovative strategies for organizing, educating and lobbying. This year SPAN and other student organizations will converge twice for Think Outside the Bomb: first, in Washington on April 12th at American University; and then again, in August at Tuffs University in Boston.

It is critical to engage students and young professionals against “Bombplex Transformation” and new threats as they emerge. In the coming years the generation of leaders who lived through the Cold War will be gone — it is our duty to build on our successes and pass our experiences with nuclear abolition work to the next generation while we still can.

Activists Speak: Maddy Hale, 17
Peace Action

A Senior at Bethesda Chevy Chase High School, Maddy plans to attend college in the Fall. She has been an activist & organizor for over 2 years. She joined SPAN as our Intern last Fall.

• Q: How do you think that this occupation affects students differently than other people?
• A: The money to pay for this occupation comes from schools. I go to a pretty affluent school so I’m not effected nearly as much as lower income students. Those students face deeper budget cuts and more aggressive military recruitment. But, I stand in solidarity with the students who are directly targeted. It’s INFURATING because they’re setting us up to fuel the occupation – they take away our choices and then send recruiters in to fill the void.

• Q: How do you think students are uniquely suited to activism and organizing?
• A: Having the privilege to not work is very important. We have the time and skills to build our movement ourselves. Especially at college, that will be a great place to organize. I’ll be able to find a lot of people with similar views. Student power has a history of resistance against war. I mean, at least in the US, the 60’s is a great example.

• Q: Do you do a lot of peer education and organizing now, in High School?
• A: It’s kinda hard to organize the people in my school. I mean, their parents work in the places we were targeting. That’s also true for the Global Justice Movement. That’s hard to deal with. They are against the war but they don’t see it as a profit technique. I’ve got a close knit group of radical folk, [and] we find other people in other schools to connect with.

• Q: What are the challenges to the student movement?
• A: Student groups are not all students or ‘student aged;’ there is not enough engagement of ‘student aged’ people outside of the school system. But anyway, adults show up. How are we supposed to talk about our issues with some adult trying to lead the discussion?

Also, a lot of the groups are largely from the same class background. They talk about privilege but never from a non-privileged perspective. Activism can be like school, too cilque-y. That turns people off and drives them away. Sometimes it feels like a few people are spearheading the work (and they’re not student aged) – they keep all the information centralized, when it should be dispersed.

• Q: What do you do to work through these challenges?
• A: I complain a lot! HA! I mean you don’t want to stop organizing, you can’t. I think you have to prepare yourself for change before you can try to change a movement. A group of young womyn and I started a group, “DC TAMPACTION.” It is menstrual activism for our community. We get together; we’re committed to each other. We create a supportive culture for members going through hard times — whether we’re facing state repression or family issues. Then spread that culture. We learn from each other; that’s the most important thing we do as a movement, we learn from each other.