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March 2007 SDS March 20 National Day of Action

Thousands of students walk out, take to streets

by Josh Sykes |
March 21, 2007
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Woman on a bullhorn.
(Fight Back! News/Staff)
Protesters in the middle of an intersection.
Protesters lead a march with red banner  that says AWOL.
UNC-Chapel Hill students block traffic during their march on March 20. (Fight Back! News/Staff)
University of Minnesota students march at protest organized by the U of M Anti-War Organizing League (AWOL) (Fight Back! News/Staff)

“Stop the war, yes we can! SDS is back again!” This was a popular chant heard around the country as students in high schools and colleges walked out of classes, held rallies, marches, teach-ins and other creative actions in response to the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) call for national coordinated student actions on March 20, the fourth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War. The call was put out by SDS groups that met at the School of the Americas protest last November, where 100 students from 20 campuses voted unanimously to make March 20 a national day of student action against the war. Those 20 schools quickly became 83, as colleges and high schools from the Northeast to the Midwest, from West Coast to the South, signed on to the call.

The call for action read, “We, students and young people here in the U.S., support the right of the Iraqi people to self-determination. We refuse to accept this new strategy to ‘expand the military,’ and reject any means the government may use to make these new troops materialize - whether through the implementation of a draft or the continued use of manipulative and deceptive recruitment techniques. We refuse to be subtle in our outcry against this war, we refuse to do nothing and be silent while people are killed in our name for profit for the rich and we refuse to be sent overseas in a war for oil.”

Kati Ketz of the University of North Carolina -Asheville SDS, one of the lead organizers for the national March 20 day of action, said, “It’s incredibly inspiring to see students taking up this call to action and organizing on a local level. Students are becoming united and organized across the country against the war, and we’re really going to see a new student movement emerge out of these actions.”

Veterans and Their Families Speak Out

SDS students at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa chanted, “What do we want? Troops Out! When do want it? Now!” as they rallied and marched. Corbin Martin, a veteran of the Iraq war who fought in the battle of An Nasiriyah said, “The American people, in 2006, made it clear that they want our troops out of Iraq, with their vote, yet President Bush will not listen. Instead President Bush has increased the number of troops and continues to do so. This is unacceptable. This is more than a failed policy; this is injustice.”

Martin said that his experiences in Iraq led him to oppose the war. People in the audience wept as Martin told them that, “After the battle of An Nasiriyah, my unit occupied a small farm community south of Baghdad. I learned to speak a little Arabic and had become relatively proficient with my translating book, so I was in charge of handling civilians that needed to come through our position. One day, an old Arabic woman drove up to our position. She was crying and walked right up to me speaking very fast. It took some time, but I finally realized what she was saying. She said that a helicopter had shot missiles at her town and her grandson was injured during the attack. I looked in the back of her car and saw the little boy sitting there. I walked over to the car with the boy’s grandmother. I still have nightmares about what I saw. One of the little boy’s arms and one of his legs were gone. All that remained were bloody stubs, wrapped in dirty rags. I ran over to my Staff Sergeant and told him about the boy and his grandmother. He told me to send them away, that the medical supplies were for us, not them. I am ashamed to say that I followed that order. I sent them away. I don’t know if that boy got help, but I pray every night that he did.”

In Rock Hill, South Carolina, students from the Winthrop University Socialist Student Union signed onto the call and led a rally of 100 students. Summer Lipford spoke about her son, Steven Sirko, who had been a medic in Iraq for exactly four months when he was killed in 2005 at the age of 20. Courtney Hunt, one of the organizers at Winthrop, said, “I underestimated the Winthrop student body. They aren’t as apathetic as I thought. It shows the students are looking for an outlet like this, and I want to provide it for them.”

In New Brunswick, New Jersey, Rutgers Against the War led a walkout and rally of 400 students “My son was a Rutgers graduate,” said Sue Niederer, speaking of her son, Ceth Dvorin, who died in Iraq. “My son went here. My son paid the ultimate sacrifice. He was 24 years old and he had just been married. And the recruiters were on this campus and all the other campuses around and they got him by their lies, deceit and deception.” During the march, protesters blocked traffic on southbound Route 18.

High Schools Join the Walkout

Numerous high schools came out to oppose the war on this historic day of action. In South Jersey, Cherry Hill High School East students held a rally to oppose the war. “Why are we spending billons of dollars on a war that doesn’t matter?” asked Lai Wo, 17, a Cherry Hill student. Over 300 high school students at Maria Carrillo walked out of classes in Santa Rosa, California, in one of the largest of the high school walkouts.

With chants of “No blood for oil - U.S. off Iraqi soil!” students from the University of North Carolina-Asheville SDS walked out and marched downtown, where they were joined by dozens of high school students who had walked out of Asheville High. “We’re letting people know that we don’t believe in this,” said Carla Michelle Moore, an Asheville High senior. “I don’t want to watch people go home in body bags.” Charla Schlueter, one of the organizers of the UNCA SDS walkout said, “Any great change that this country has seen, whether it has been in the workplace or in ending unjust wars, it has been achieved by the people taking to the streets and demanding it, not by the government suddenly realizing its own benevolent nature. Student movements have often been at the core of these changes.”

Many Raleigh, North Carolina high schools came out for March 20 to join with demonstrating students from North Carolina State University, including Enloe, Southeast Raleigh, Cary, Green Hope and Raleigh Charter High Schools.

Struggle Builds on the University Campuses

Many major universities from around the country participated in the day of action as the wave of protests swept every corner of the country. SDSers from Brown University in Rhode Island staged a die-in in downtown Providence in front of Textron Inc., a corporation contracted to manufacture helicopters, armored vehicles and munitions. Harvard University students held a candlelight vigil and read the names of Iraqi and American casualties. 500 students marched at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

At New York University, students held a rally called ‘Red Tuesday’ where students dressed in red to symbolize the human cost of the war held up giant banners reading “658,000,” representing both the Iraqi and U.S. casualties of the war.

In Chapel Hill, North Carolina, UNC-Chapel Hill SDS organized hundreds of students to walk out of classes and march through the streets. SDS members marched alongside the Black Student Movement and Student Action with Workers as they chanted antiwar slogans such as “Walk out! Resist! Carolina, raise your fist!” and blocked traffic. “The dead are our age,” said Tara Ilsley. “They’re in their 20s. What are we doing now? The war isn’t accomplishing anything. In my opinion, it’s become another Vietnam.” One sign at the protest read, “ACC Champs against the occupation.”

At the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, over 300 people came out, including clerical workers from the campus, community members and students. One clerical worker voiced solidarity with the growing student movement, saying, “If workers and students work together the sky is the limit!” Other speakers talked about the importance of ‘surge’ in the student movement - a reference to Bush’s plan for a ‘surge’ of 21,500 more troops to Iraq - noting the importance of escalating the movement in response to the escalation of the war. Protesters took to the streets, occupying a busy intersection for 20 minutes. They then took their energy to the campus, marching through, chanting, “Money for schools, not for war! Hands off Iraq!” and “Who is the terrorist? Bush is the terrorist!”

In Chicago, Students for Social Justice at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) led hundreds of students in the largest protest on campus since the start of the war. Sussan Navabi, an organizer from UIC, reported on the new student movement to the night time rally. When she said, "Let's hear it for the students that walked out of classes today to protest this war," the crowd roared its support. At the rally, Bill Ayers, a leader of SDS in the 1960s spoke to the assembled crowd. Ayers encouraged the current generation of student activists to see the impact they are having, telling them, "Students today are inspired by what we did in the 1960s, but then feel they can't compare. But the largest anti-war rally I ever attended in Chicago was in March 2003 when the invasion of Iraq occurred." Nearby Wright College organized the first ever anti-war rally on their campus, with 30 students. Two Iraqi women students spoke, calling for troops out now. Students from both schools joined thousands of others marching in downtown Chicago.

Build the Student Movement - Build SDS!

A great deal of the momentum for the March 20 day of action was built by the 27 schools, mainly on the West Coast, who held student strikes and walkouts on Feb. 15. Momentum is building, and as the war drags on into its fifth year we are seeing a new wave of student activism emerge. A national student movement is a necessary weapon against Bush and the right wing. Building the newly emerging Students for a Democratic Society is a major component to building a strong anti-war movement.