Thousands of students in Minneapolis, Seattle, and other cities walked out of classes on November 16 to demand an end to the Iraq War, military recruiters out of schools, and money for education, not war.
The walkouts were part of a national day of action called by Youth Against War and Racism (YAWR) and a coalition of antiwar organizations, in coordination with the national Iraq Moratorium protests called for the third Friday of every month. Socialist Alternative played a central role in organizing these walkouts in a number of areas.
Students organized walkouts in at least nine cities or counties: Brattleboro (Vermont), Boston, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and throughout Washington State, including Seattle, Tukwila, Tacoma, Olympia, Whatcom County, and Lewis County.
In Seattle, approximately 600 students from over 30 high schools and nearly 10 universities and colleges walked out of classes at noon and converged for a spirited rally and march. After the rally, demonstrators marched to a military recruiting station chanting, “Hey recruiters, we’re no fools! Get your lies out of our schools!” and “Stop, stop, stop recruiting the poor! Fight the rich, not their wars!” The march succeeded in shutting down the recruiting station for the day.
Socialist Alternative has been actively campaigning, alongside other antiwar groups, to kick military recruiters out of schools. In Seattle, activists won an important victory last summer when the school board restricted recruiters access to schools in response to ongoing campaigning and a walkout of 800 students in April. In Minneapolis/St. Paul, there is an ongoing campaign to force school boards to pass restrictions on recruiters access.
The walkout drew over 1,000 students in Minneapolis/St. Paul from over 40 high schools (and even middle schools) and colleges. High energy and loud chants lasted the entirety of the two-mile march.
In Tacoma, Washington, a predominantly military town, high school students and Socialist Alternative members also organized a protest of nearly 100 students and community members outside a recruiting station, despite pouring rain.
In Olympia, Washington, the site of brutal attacks by police on protesters attempting to block the transport of military cargo through the Port of Olympia throughout November, 300-400 students walked out, including a group of about a dozen 9-year-olds who organized a protest outside their elementary school.
For the vast majority of students who came, this was their first protest, and they came with passion and energy. Amy Englesberg, a high school senior, told the Bellingham Herald, “I’ve been angry for many, many years about our administration and so have lots of youth. I’m really frustrated, for one, because I can’t vote for President or legislators, but I can make a stand for what I believe in.”
In Washington, the walkouts received an impressive amount of coverage in the mass media, reaching hundreds of thousands of ordinary working people, soldiers, and military families.
Socialist Alternative speakers at the walkouts explained the failure of the Democratic Congress to cut the war funds as being rooted in their defense of U.S. imperialism, and the importance of the walkouts as a tactic to embolden even more students, workers, soldiers, and military families to stand up and refuse to cooperate with this war.
Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, some of whom had been injured in Iraq, spoke about how the best way to support the troops is to get them out of Iraq immediately.
Kristin Ebeling, a YAWR activist and Socialist Alternative member from the University of Washington, summed up the mood of many at the walkouts when she said: “Making this statement is more important than any math problem we will ever do. It’s up to us to say, no, we don’t want our generation in Iraq. We want them home, going to college, getting jobs, we want them to get social services. We don’t want to spend money on this war – spend it on education, books, and teachers.