Out of the Classroom, Into the Battlefield

student protestWhen asked why students are protesting the war on Iraq, Jessica Marshall of the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition (NYSPC) and the Young Communist League, says it's because politicians are "not sending the sons and daughters of rich people over to Iraq. They're sending that kid from down the street, the one who was trying to get an education."

Locally and nationally, youth and student peace organizations are trying to sort out the complex issues of how to oppose the war in a super-charged atmosphere of patriotism. They say they oppose this unjust war in part because it's fought predominantly by working class youth and youth of color who are enticed by military recruiters offering money for college and a way out of poverty.

Karim Lopez, an organizer for New York based Up Town Peace and Justice (UTPJ), says the "poverty draft is the economic pressure that forces young people of color to join the army."

Portia Pedro, director of organizing for the United States Student Association (USSA), adds, "working class young people are the majority of the ones doing the fighting."

USSA, the oldest and largest student organization in the country, with affiliates on hundreds of campuses, sees a direct link between the war abroad and the tuition hikes at home. "When money goes to one place, it has to be taken from another," said Pedro. "This war isn't about democracy, it's about money."

army recruitsNationally, tuition is rising, class sizes are increasing, financial aid is being cut and there are fewer and fewer jobs for youth at living wages. Erica Smiley, national coordinator of the Black Radical Congress (BRC) Youth Division, said, "We're not only being asked to sacrifice our lives. We're being asked to sacrifice our education and our jobs."

While in the past few months hundreds of thousands of youth have participated in mass national protests, many have also voiced their opposition to the war on Iraq on a local level.

Many youth have put candles in their windows, held vigils and organized campus teach-ins. Perhaps one of the most effective actions organized entirely by youth and students was the March 5th Books Not Bombs student strike.

One of the nearly 400 participating campuses was Stanford University. Clara Webb, a senior at Stanford, and a member of the Stanford Committee for Peace and Justice (SCPJ), said "federal money, financial aid, after school programs and health services are all being cut out of state budgets so that Bush can pay for his war."

ALSO read
"Books, Not Bombs: Students Protest A War On Education" by David Bacon.

On March 5 the SCPJ, representing about 30 endorsing organizations, mobilized close to 1,000 students to go on strike. The striking students rallied in the quad, held workshops, wrote letters to congressional representatives and held cultural events throughout the day. Over 60 faculty members endorsed the strike, and around 30 cancelled classes.

The March 5th action was an example of how national and local youth and student peace organizations have been coordinating material, information, training and support.

Internationally, "we have to look at the root causes of what is making people so angry at us; our trade policy, robbing natural resources, enslaving the work force in terrible conditions," said Smiley.

"We have to recognize that this war is one front of a broader, larger effort to impose U.S. economic domination over the world," said Karim Lopez. "The only way out of this conflict is to continue to make the link between the war abroad and war at home, to connect the issues, to mobilize."

Tony Pecinovsky lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. He has written articles for Dynamic, What's Up, Political Affairs, People's Weekly World and the Indypendent among others. He is 26 yeas old and loves his cat, Sugar.

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