Students Strike Back

student strike"We're allowed to have everything but the table. If we put everything on the ground, they can't do anything," Eric England said to the group of people immediately surrounding him.

Eric and his group stood in the middle of Dwinelle Plaza on University of California, Berkeley campus. It was a clear, warm day in the middle of mid-term week, and there were many people hanging around the plaza. There was a between-class languor about most of them; some were studying, some just relaxing in the sun.

The exception to this general repose was Eric and the rest of the Berkeley Stop the War Coalition. They were there to incite a student strike. Aside from planning what to do should the university try and stop them from assembling, they were busy making signs, some urging other students to join the strike happening at noon, others with slogans like "Military power does not lead to security, it leads to death." Some of the Stop the War Coalition people had foregone the use of signs and were simply standing amidst the human traffic shouting, "Oppose the war! Strike at noon!"

Soon enough the designated hour arrived. About 150 students were assembled in the plaza. Some claimed to have ditched their high school or middle school to be on Berkeley's campus to show their opposition to the war. Eerily enough, the university chose to test its emergency broadcast system on that day, so as various speakers began to extol the crowd, an air-raid siren was going off in the background.

"I'm supporting our troops, I want to see them brought home," one speaker yelled. "Peace is patriotic!"

Another speaker grabbed the bullhorn and announced that the entire student body of Fremont High had walked out. The crowd erupted.

But glancing around Dwinelle Plaza, it was apparent that the anti-war protesters were something of an insulated community, even among Berkeley's notoriously liberal student body. Many of the people who were lounging before are still lounging as the strike began to broil.

"I have two mid-terms and a paper to write this week," one girl explained.

"This is ridiculous, what do they think they're accomplishing? Maybe they get a little media attention," another student yelled into his cell phone as he rushed by the crowd.

The strikers began to march about campus, in and out of buildings, shouting chants like "We want peace on foreign soil, no blood for oil!" They were followed by a small contingent of police, who did absolutely nothing to interfere with the strike. The police could have been just another part of the landscape, along with the many students who weren't participating in the strike. While the strikers were hard to ignore, many of their fellow students seem to regard them as little more than a passing curiosity.

Unfortunately, this scene may be indicative of the U.S. population as a whole. While many people march, protest, and shout, far too many more Americans seem content to be spectators, leaving the protesting and the warmongering to someone else. But it is the apparent apathy of the Bush Administration that caused the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition (NYSPC) to organize March 5, 2003 as a one-day, national student strike.

"The Bush administration is intent on plunging America into an illegitimate and pre-emptive war in Iraq that will only increase danger for Americans and the world. At the same time education, healthcare, and the economy are being neglected. It's time for youth and students to take a stand for America's future!" proclaims the NYSPC website.

The NYSPC was formed following September 11, and is comprised of fifteen student organizations united in their opposition to a military response to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Part of the NYSPC's mission statement reads: "We are opposed to an open-ended war on terrorism. We call for the U.S. to address the root causes of the conflict, we see the U.S. policy in the Middle East as one of those root causes. We seek lasting peace at home but in order to achieve it we must have justice abroad."

The coalition called this day of student strikes "Books Not Bombs" to highlight their message that the increasing amounts of money the U.S. is spending on its military means less money goes to our educational system. Some 350 high schools and universities around the nation participated.

According to the NYSPC site, the coalition was only calling for a one-day strike because the target is the Bush Administration and not the universities themselves. Hoping that radio and TV networks like NPR and the BBC will run stories about the nation-wide strike, the coalition's main objective seems to be the destruction of the idea that Bush has the support of the American people.

Though many polls have shown that a majority of Americans do, in fact, support Bush, the NYSPC can still feel justified in claiming that this war effort is not supported by the people: its member organizations include millions of students. That places the coalition at the very forefront of the burgeoning youth peace movement, a movement that might yet grow to encompass a majority of Americans.

Several of the protesters at Berkeley, like freshman Chelsea Collonge, were eager to find more effective ways to voice their opposition to the war. Chelsea felt that strikes were a necessary tactic because, as she explained, "[a protest] makes more of an impact if you disrupt the institutions of society." Given how much research is conducted at U.S. universities on behalf of the federal government, student strikes might prove to be one of the most prudent places to start a national strike against the war.

Eric, a senior political science major, saw this national student strike as a logical next step. He said that anti-war protests must continue to grow in size and severity in order to maintain pressure on the Bush Administration to rethink its agenda. "Rallies and marches, no matter how big they are, Bush has likened to a focus group. If we build a national strike, where large sectors of the economy shut down, it's gonna wreak havoc. Things need to get shut down for Bush to see it; if it doesn't hit his corporate buddies, it doesn't hit him at all, unfortunately. So we gotta start hitting him where it hurts, and unfortunately it looks like that's his friends and his pocketbook."

Mike Gaworecki, 24, is a reporter and guest editor at WireTap.

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