Last time we covered YAWR they were pressuring a school board in St. Paul to curtail military recruiter access to students. At the end of the month YAWR organized a major student walk-out in Seattle that culminated in a confrontation with the school board (from Seattle Indymedia):
Over 800 students walked out of schools throughout the Seattle area on April 18 to demand an immediate end to the Iraq war. The walkout, organized by Youth Against War and Racism (YAWR), culminated in a protest at a meeting of the School Board, calling for military recruiters be kicked out of our schools. The students also protested the School District’s plan to close 7 Seattle schools, calling instead for money for education, not war.
Throughout the day of rallies and marching throughout 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 antiwar protests which often draw the same crowd of activists, this walkout succeeded in mobilizing 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, and Jobs with Justice, among others.
When the School Board meeting started, the normally sterile atmosphere of the meeting, which is usually dominated by 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 antiwar 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 need—military recruiters out of schools completely.
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 organizers 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. (See links to some of the media coverage below.)
The walkout was endorsed by a wide number of organizations 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 antiwar and progressive organizations. But it could not have been achieved without the dedication, sacrifices, and contributions from all the students and activists who helped organize this walkout. We really want to thank all of you who helped out, all of the endorsing organizations, and especially the students who took a stand and walked out of school.
Building a National Student Walkout
A common theme throughout the day was that mass student walkouts are vital for building a huge antiwar movement of workers and young people that 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 organized in Seattle in November 2005 was what inspired him to take a stand as the first U.S. military officer to refuse to deploy to Iraq.
The walkout rally agreed to issue an appeal to students and antiwar groups across the country to organize a nationwide student walkout and strike against the war in the fall 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 fall 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 antiwar movement. We are calling on students and antiwar organizations to contact us 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 organize protests against military recruiters in your schools, and to contact us for help, since the School Board refuses to ban military recruitment in schools.