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Student anti-war protests sweep U.S.

by Chapin Gray |
March 23, 2008
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Students march carrying since, including "Occupation is a Crime"
Student protest against US war in Iraq at UNC-Chapel Hill. (Fight Back! News/Staff)
Protesters carrying SDS banner
Student walkout against US war in Iraq at UNC-Asheville.

People across the country marked the 5th anniversary of the Iraq war by taking to the streets in protest. Students turned out in full force. Members of Students for a Democratic Society, whose call for a week of action against the war brought together over 90 SDS chapters and other progressive organizations committed to rallying, marching and walking out to protest the war. This week of actions was the largest student-organized anti-war protests since the war on Iraq began.

In the absence of large national or regional demonstrations, it was local student protests that really stepped up the intensity and were the center of anti-war activity. All over the country, hundreds of students walked out and rallied for an end to the occupation in Iraq, from University of Alabama to Harvard.

Some staged die-ins, like the University of North Carolina - Charlotte and Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. Others organized massive walkouts, such as Pennsylvania’s Millersville University and the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. Some students occupied recruiting centers like the Providence, Rhode Island SDS, risking arrest. At the University of Central Florida in Orlando, students lined 500 pairs of shoes on walkways, each filled with a card noting an Iraqi woman or child who died in the war.

Over 1000 high school students in Portland, Oregon walked out of school and joined a downtown march numbering in the thousands. The crowd was met by harassment and tear gas from police. The following day, hundreds more students boycotted school and continued their demonstration against the war. And in Washington, D.C., over 500 students and youth took to the streets as part of Funk the War, targeting war-profiteer Lockheed Martin and blocking traffic. "Funk the War is a great action because fun and interesting actions, coupled with a sense of community, are what keeps people within the movement," said Christa Hendrickson of Madison, New Jersey’s Drew University SDS.

At the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, 450 students rallied and 300 marched through campus and into the community, occupying the main intersection in town before ending with a closing rally on the steps of the administration building. SDS and thirteen other student organizations, members of the newly-founded UNC Coalition Against the War, led the demonstration. "I'm inspired by the hundreds of students who were willing to leave class and march against this unjust war," said Abby Crownshaw, a first-year student and lead organizer of the protest. "We brought our message of peace and justice to thousands of students, faculty and staff."

The March 20th Working Group of SDS has been working since January to bring in as many chapters and groups as possible, encouraging students and youth to take action against the war on their campuses. SDS members worked with activists from all regions of the country to share resources, reach out to other chapters and organizations and to get the word out to the media that students are on the move.

"SDS brought something special to the student movement on March 20," said Harmony Piechota of Philadelphia SDS. "We had accessible national celebrations like Funk The War that linked the War in Iraq to skyrocketing debt and cuts in education. We were dynamite where it counts - in our local communities. We are showing universities that we have the power, and we have a student agenda. Plus, we shut down Washington. March 20th was great way to show new SDSers that we are really a part of something bigger than our selves."

"As SDS, as part of the larger anti-war movement, we felt it important to organize a coordinated effort among campuses across the country to protest the war," said Kati Ketz from the SDS chapter at University of North Carolina -Asheville, who was part of the March 20th Working Group. "With over 90 schools participating, this year's week of action exceeded both last year's actions and our personal expectations. We believe in this election year it is important that we make clear demands of the U.S. government - that U.S. troops be withdrawn immediately from Iraq and that reparations be paid to the Iraqi people who have suffered immensely under the occupation."