This past November 2, thousands of high school and college students marked the 1-year anniversary of Bush’s reelection by walking out of class and marching in the streets, to demand an immediate end to the Iraq War.
The largest and most successful actions were those organized by Youth Against War and Racism (YAWR), a network of local groups of young people fighting in our schools and communities to end the racist war in Iraq and drive military recruiters off our campuses.
Last summer, YAWR existed in just a few schools in four cities – Seattle, Tacoma, Boston, and the Twin Cities. But students and antiwar groups in at least a dozen cities and six states answered YAWR’s call to action on November 2.
Members of Socialist Alternative played a central role in making this event happen. We helped initiate YAWR chapters in cities across the country, helped put forward the November 2 call to action, and did a substantial amount of the organizing on the ground alongside independent YAWR activists.
The largest response was in the Twin Cities, where over 2000 students from more than 40 schools walked out. A lively march followed, blocking a major intersection for 30 minutes, and culminating in a combative rally in front of a military recruitment station. The walkout was the top story on all TV and radio news that evening, and it was the main item in the local newspapers the next day.
In Seattle, over 1000 students from 50 schools across the Puget Sound area gathered downtown for a rally and march, followed by a number of workshops. The walkout made the front page of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Seattle Times local section.
In Tacoma, a city with a heavy military presence thanks to nearby Fort Lewis, 100 students protested outside a recruiting station at the Tacoma Mall. They stood up to a contingent of 30 abusive, right-wing counter-protestors to hold the first student-organized antiwar demonstration in Tacoma since the Vietnam War!
In Boston, around 250 students joined a lively rally, and many hundreds more walked out of class in response to our call.
In every city the crowds were overwhelmingly made up of young people, mainly high schools students. Many were attending their first or second protest ever.
Everything about the November 2 actions underlines the fact that they were a tremendous success, from the giant amount of media attention they received, to the enthusiasm they generated among both those who participated and their broader communities.
The walkouts and protests show that young people stand at the forefront of the antiwar movement. The willingness of students to take militant action against the war stands in sharp contrast to the pessimism that engulfed many activists in the wake of Bush’s reelection victory.
The strong showing on November 2 amidst a period of relative calm in the broader antiwar movement highlights the importance of the steady, systematic organizing of an ongoing organization – such as YAWR or Socialist Alternative – in sustaining the movement through its inevitable lulls.
Also, by posing the problems of the war in a class manner, YAWR attacked the war at its roots, and our appeal was better able to mobilize youth than the superficial calls for peace put forward by liberal antiwar groups. YAWR explains that the real basis of the Iraq war is oil profits and US corporate interests in the Middle East, and we connect the massive costs of the war to cuts in education at home, along with a lack of jobs that young people need for a decent future.
The tremendous echo that November 2 found, despite being organized by relatively small organizations with limited resources, proves that the potential exists for building a powerful antiwar movement. By continuing to establish YAWR chapters in new high schools and by strengthening the existing ones, we can help build a powerful movement able to galvanize the widespread anger at Bush’s war.