Report on yesterday's walkouts and protests in New York City
derektheredrebel at yahoo.com
Thu Mar 6 08:45:46 MST 2003
As almost all know, yesterday was the international
day of student protest, where students around the
world were going to walkout of school to protest the
war on Iraq. I figured the turnout in New York City
would be pretty large after my fourteen year old
sister, who's biggest concerns are whether Justin
Timberlake and Britney Spears will get back together
or who will be the next American Idol, told me the day
before that her whole school knew about the walkout
and that she'd be attending.
The optomism was indeed warranted. By 12:30pm, over
3,000 (mostly highschool and some middleschool)
students had taken over the southside of Union Square.
The mic was open to representatives from all the
schools, who gave fantastic on-the-spot talks. One of
my favorites was a short, clumsy, pre-pubescent 6th
grader who had to stand on a chair so everyone could
see him. After giving an eloquent critique of the war,
he stumbled upon his words, where upon he put down his
notes and said to the crowd in his high-pitched voice,
"look, this just doesn't make any sense". That, and
the students' many passionate references to the need
to use the billions spent for killing Iraqis on the
besieged public schools, best articulated the spirit
of the rally.
The energy and loudness was fantastic. The students
erupted with every good point, well-articluated or
not, that their peers made on the mic. Songs, raps,
and poetry were performed, as well as new and creative
chants that only this generation could come up with:
"This booty only shakes for peace! This booty don't
shake for hate!"
"Move Bush! Get out the way, get out the way Bush, Get
out the way!" (This is a play off the popular rapper
Ludacris' song "Move Bitch")
"Who let the bombs drop? Bush, Bush, Bush" (A play of
the song "Who let the dogs out?")
The rally started off in the rain, but halfway through
the sun came out. The students attributed this to
their own presence ("See, we brought the sun out!!!").
Wishful thinking, but clever and beautifully
It is worth pointing out that most of the crowd was
students of color. When speakers gave shoutouts to
Flatbush, Brooklyn or the South Bronx, the crowd
erupted. It was a wonderful thing to see students get
on the microphone in front of a crowd, probably for
the first time in their life, and tell their story.
One young African-American nearly came to tears as she
she told of her brother in the marines and the
possibility of his death. This resonated with the
crowd, as many of them had family and friends in the
The courage of these students should also be noted.
Many were told before hand they would be suspended or
expelled if they walked, but they defiantly did it
anyway. Several students from a school (I can't
remember that name) reported that they were already
expelled for walking out. If you wish to defend them,
call (212)879-6354 and ask for Karen Smith. It the
least we could do.
Luckily, I don't think the wandering sects alienated
the students too much. An SWPer was on the bullhorn,
telling 14 year olds about coalminers struggles and
why they should support the Cuban Revolution. Great
way to talk to students who are at thir first
demonstration and whose biggest concerns are getting
new math books, kicking military recruiters out of
their school, finding jobs for their family, and
keeping their brothers and sisters from being shipped
off to the Gulf to die.
There were rallies going on all over New York at the
same time. A contigent, over a thousand strong, from
NYU tried to march over and meet us, but was prevented
by the police.
After the event at Union Square, some students marched
to Hunter College (the designated spot for everyone to
meet at 2:30pm). Others, like myself, took over the 6
train uptown, renamed the "Peace Train". I got off
about ten blocks before Hunter, where I saw a group of
about ten highschoolers marching on their own to
Hunter, screaming antiwar chants at the top of their
lungs ("Books not bombs!"). This was much to the
dismay of rich white Eastsiders (though black and
latino workers gave us the thumbs up).
When we got to Hunter, the main plaza was completely
filled, and got bigger over the next two hours. We
were set to march later on (illegaly) to Hillary
Clinton's office at 4:30pm. The next two hours before
that were basically a festival full of high energy,
creative chants, drums, and a sustained volume that
only youth could maintain for that long.
At 4:30pm, the march began. I'd say about 3,000
students particpated, as we stretched for two blocks
on the sidewalk. The police formed a human wall
between us and the street, making them look like a
Nazi Gestapo contingent in blue. We got a lot of
salutes and peace signs from people, especially
workers in the stores we passed by.
About halfway through, the police stopped us in a
major intersection, where traffic was stopped for
about ten minutes. I was towards the back, but it
turned out they arrested on of the student leaders who
was leading the chants on the bullhorn. For a moment
it seemed like chaos would erupt, as students started
screaming collectively at the cops and breaking
through the lines to run around the street and
sidewalk. But the march got back in order, and we
continued unmolested to Clinton's office.
By 5:30pm, over ten thousand people gathered in front
of her office for a peace vigil organized by UfPJ.
About an hour and a half later we began marching
downtown to Washington Square in Greenwich Village.
The two hour march was fantastic, as we received
massive support from passerbys and window watchers.
There's something very existentially fulfilling and
aethetically beautiful about marching with thousands
down the streets of New York City in the dark, the
Empire State building towering over you along with its
lesser neighbors, neon lights and cop sirens glowing,
traffic stopping, and people watching. I recall the
scene from the movie "Reds", where Emma Goldman is
speaking to a crowd in the dark and rain of the City,
spewing out biting words against WWI. Lately, with the
movement growing exponentially, I'm feeling more and
more like we are participating in something of that
We finally made it down to Washington Square, where we
were greeted by a thousand or two, as well as great
talks and beautiful poetry and music. The long day of
protest ended at about 9pm.
Of course, this was really just a minor day of protest
in terms of numbers. The real forces will come out on
March 22, when New York City will march, permit or
not. But this was a day for the youth. The empowerment
of the walkout, rally, and march will infuse the youth
movement with confidence and momentum. Students will
go back to school, the word of mouth will spread like
wildfire, and the next walkout will be much bigger,
even the cool thing to do. Students who have hardly
ever spoken up about their thoughts on the world (for
they are not encouraged to do this), will now do so.
However hard the rulers try, the youth are not stupid
and apathetic. They care about their schools, their
familes, their opportunities, their communities, and
they are willing to fight to defend these things. A
little nudge is all that's needed. Hopefully (and I
believe so) yesterday's events triggered off the
beginnings of a new stage in the youth movement, at
least in New York City, resulting in not only much
greater student participation and leadership in the
antiwar movement, but in an active radicalization of
young people who are eager and willing to grab their
friends, play hooky, and flood the streets to fight
for a peace and a better future.
Shake that booty for peace!!!
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