The Slumber Party
Seventeen-year-old Boulder High School student Travis Moe admits that most teenagers his age just want to get drunk and get laid.
"I have been really cynical lately," said Moe, a dreadlocked senior who wears flip-flops in blizzards. "No one talks about politics or the world."
He did, however, find some peers who were concerned about their futures, particularly under the Bush administration. So, when dissenters across the nation were protesting President Bush's re-election, Moe and fellow members of the 10-student-strong activist group Student Worker held a rally/sleep-in in Boulder High School's library on Nov. 4 to oppose Bush's policies, the national debt, military recruitment in schools, disregard for the environment and, more importantly, to prove to the nation that they weren't just a bunch of horny teenagers. "I just needed some affirmation that school wasn't as apathetic as I thought it was," said Moe.
It also became a call to arms for students across the country.
"The youth around the country need to know that their futures are being betrayed," said 17-year-old Cameron Ely-Murdock, who helped organize the sleep-in. "If we don't voice our opinions it won't stop. We really want people to understand that we can't just accept the fact that the world thinks we are apathetic youth. If you have a problem with the government, you need to do something about it. We agree that Bush sucks, but we aren't doing anything about it."
A lot of planning went into the sleep-in. On Nov. 3, Student Worker members called various cliques, looked up Colorado state codes, began writing speeches, prepared to meet with the administration, and made shirts and signs. They talked on the phone with members' fathers who were lawyers to find out their legal rights as well as the school's, and wrote up a list of concerns, which included the war in Iraq and the possibility of a future draft.
And of course, they called their parents.
"My mom was nervous," said Moe, who played Bender, the rebel played by Judd Nelson, in the school's version of The Breakfast Club. "She respects me as an independent individual, but she didn't think much good would come out of it. She thought I would get suspended. I told her it would be a moral stance. She was so proud."
The Nov. 4 protest, which started after classes finished at 3:15 p.m. on Thursday, drew more than 80 of Boulder High's 2,000 students, who bunked down for the night with the blessing of the school principal, Ron Cabrera, who originally wanted them out of the library by 5 p.m. Cabrera relented after the students agreed to clean up and attend first-period classes the following morning.
"I was surprised when the principal allowed the protest," said Ely-Murdock. "Even a bit disappointed. It kind of ruined the whole idea of 'sticking it to the man,' but I think we ended up getting more media attention because of it."
Several "peace" flags hung from the bookshelves in the library. On the wall, crooked black markings read, "We are the generation that will have to take on and suffer from the burden." Under the supervision of parents and teachers, the students, who ranged from modern-day hippies adorned in beanies and hemp necklaces, to leather-jacket-clad punk rockers, to conservatively dressed Democrats, sat on the floor and on tables, laughing, shaking maracas, playing the guitar and patting drums. One student, Brian Martens, wore '70s-style sunglasses and a hand-lettered T-shirt proclaiming him the "senior executive of the subcommittee on protesting stuff."
"We even had some of the mainstream self-proclaimed 'popular' students showing up," said Moe, but, "We didn't get the jocks or cheerleaders."
The students read speeches by Martin Luther King and sang Beatles songs like "Give Peace a Chance," while organizers called the press and local pols like Congressman Mark Udall (D-Eldorado Springs) and newly elected Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar. Meanwhile, a New Yorker, after seeing the sleep-in on the national news, ordered the students two pepperoni pizzas and a cheese pizza from the pizza joint across the street. He said they looked hungry.
With Moe at the helm, Student Worker has in the past voiced its concerns about standardized statewide student-assessment testing and the U.S. Marines' setting up a recruitment table in the school library. However, the sleep-in was the group's first foray at activism in years.
"I am the hippie. I am the protester. I am the actor and filmmaker. People have high expectations of me," said Moe, explaining why he led the sleep-in. "But, outside of Boulder, we would most likely have bricks thrown through our windows and graffiti smeared across my car."
Cabrera agreed. "These kids have more of a political bent," he said. "Kids in Boulder have a little more knowledge of politics. I received messages wondering why kids were doing these types of things. 'Who is in charge here?' That type of question. They clearly didn't know the thinking that went into this and how they planned it. The media envisioned it as a 'Hell No We Won't Go,' but it was very cooperative on both sides."
Boulder has long been known as the most liberal city in Colorado and is often referred to as "the Republic of Boulder." In 1999, two Boulder High students founded Student Worker after participating in the World Trade Organization protests/riots in Seattle. In 2001, Student Worker and Boulder High's Gay-Straight Alliance staged a same-sex "kiss-in" after a photograph of two girls kissing was pulled from the Boulder High School yearbook. About 150 gay, lesbian, bisexual and straight students gathered in support of the dozen kiss-in participants. Two years later, the group along with students from other high schools went to the state capital to protest statewide testing. Student Worker later dissolved after key members graduated, but Moe resurrected it last year.
On Nov. 11, a week after the sleep-in, Boulder High students hit the news again when Secret Service agents visited the school after students and parents somewhat hysterically complained that a band calling themselves the Taliban had plans to perform Bob Dylan's "Masters of War" at a talent show scheduled for Nov. 12. The rumor was that the song would be amended with lyrics threatening President Bush. Two Secret Service agents questioned the principal for 20 minutes and took a copy of the song's lyrics. Cabrera said the band originally had plans to call itself the Tali-banned but changed the name to the Coalition of the Willing after administrators told band members the name was offensive. He also said the students never had plans to change the song's lyrics.
"I don't know if this is a case of sour grapes because someone didn't make it into the talent show," said Cabrera. "I certainly thought it was ridiculous. I was surprised that someone would move to that place where they would think that there was violence being propagated at Boulder High School."
Cabrera said he received over 150 voice mails concerning the alleged lyric manipulation, some calling for his resignation.
"I should be fired. The kids should be suspended," he said. "It was disrespectful. Those were all the types of negative calls I got. The kids at the talent show that were unfairly admonished deserved to get the protection they deserved. There was nothing wrong with singing the Bob Dylan song."
With peace symbols still smudged on their cheeks and foreheads, 16 of the students packed into Cabrera's office to speak to Udall and Boulder County Republican Party vice chairman Bill Eckert the morning after their sleep-in. Dozens of media outlets including MSNBC and the Associated Press reported on the scene. Michael Moore mentioned the students in his column, and a Hollywood production company has plans to film a documentary about the students.
"I really hope the media grabs onto this and spreads it for us," said Ely-Murdock. "I can't think of any other way. We can't hardly drive around in a fleet of school buses and yell at students. It is impractical."
The sleep-in also garnered support from their peers around the country. High school students in New Mexico invited Student Worker to travel to their school and show them how to stage a peaceful protest. Another school asked them to design a how-to pamphlet, a project Moe said he will take on.
Since the sleep-in, Moe and fellow members of Student Worker have been busy, taking on issues beyond the recent elections. The group recently organized a concert featuring four high-school-age bands that raised $500 for a local battered-women's shelter. After that, it came out en force to participate in a protest against Wal-Mart's construction of a superstore in Teotihuacan, Mexico, less than a mile from ancient pyramids. Moe says the group next plans to print the names of all the soldiers killed in Iraq on small American flags and plant them on the school's front lawn. "Maybe spelling out, 'For what?'" said Moe.
"You always have the power to make an opinion known," said Moe. "I am overcome with optimism and I see that change is possible in the government. The government is moving backwards. That is the opposite of progress and people are getting restless enough that a revolution is possible. If we can get rid of that fear and understand that change is possible and change is desired, I believe we can change the country for the better."