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Rebuilding Iraq

Students strike against war

By Jenna Russell and C. Kalimah Redd, Globe Staff, 3/6/2003

    Rebuilding Iraq


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Hundreds of Massachusetts high school students walked out of class yesterday to protest the looming threat of war with Iraq, joining thousands of their peers at high schools and colleges across the country in a one-day "student strike" organized by the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition.

Students at high schools in Newton, Arlington, Brookline, Lexington, and Cambridge left in groups ranging from a dozen to more than 100 at each school. More than 200 high school students converged on the steps of Newton City Hall in the rain to protest the Bush administration's plans for war.

"We are naive," said Lauren Blanchard, a freshman at Newton North High School. "We haven't had a war or a draft. But we want to keep it that way."

Around the state, other demonstrations were planned at high schools in Barnstable, Marblehead, and Northampton, and on a handful of college campuses, including Wellesley College and Salem State College. At the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, hundreds of students packed a midday rally.

In Newton, speaker after speaker preached of the injustices of war and blasted the US government, saying it was provoking conflict. Chants of "The students united will never be defeated" broke out, and many carried signs reading "War -- Billions, Peace -- Priceless," "Is it American to Shoot First?" and "No Blood for Oil."

More than a dozen adults stood back from the mass of teenagers. "It's inspiring," said Gil Raviv, 42, of Newton. "They are more active than some adults."

In some cases the protesters met opposition. A few students chanted "USA!" as about 50 protesting students left Arlington High School, Principal Steve Woodcock said. One Arlington sophomore said another student threw a plastic bottle at him as he left the school building; he was not hurt. There were no reports of violence at the Newton rally.

A group calling themselves "pro-war students" approached Woodcock yesterday to ask for equal time to voice their opinions, he said. "What we need to do is get them both at the same table and express their issues in an educational way rather than a shouting match," Woodcock said.

Chad Maynard, a junior at Newton North, stood outside City Hall with a half-dozen other students, dressed in Army fatigues. Some wore T-shirts with "Marines" printed over them. "If war isn't the answer, what is?" he said. "9/11 happened two years ago. We're not rushing into anything."

Ken Lisaius, a White House spokesman, said President Bush believes that "peaceful protests are the strength of the American democracy" and has listened to dissenting voices on the issue of war.

"[But] there are an equal number of people who are in support of what the president is doing, and understand that a Saddam Hussein armed with chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons poses great risk to the people of the United States, and our friends and allies around the world," he said.

Demonstrations also took place in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and New York, where hundreds of marchers from colleges across the city converged for a rally, according to the Youth and Student Peace Coalition. The group is a collaboration among 15 student organizations.

Coalition spokesman Andy Burns said that in Boston, "not much was happening." Rather than focusing on yesterday's protest, he said, many student organizers here are planning protests for the day after war begins.

Turnout was light at an evening demonstration in Copley Square, where about 20 high school students held a sign with the slogan "No War," inspiring occasional honks from motorists.

At Hampshire College in Amherst, though, hundreds painted T-shirts and posters with antiwar slogans, watched documentaries on war, and joined a two-hour teach-in in the gym. Wellesley College students marched on campus and listened to peace-minded poetry at a "peace cabaret" last night in the student center.

Alex Cheney, codirector of Boston Mobilization, a group that helps young people to organize, said the idea of war goes against what many of today's students, born in the 1980s, understand about conflict resolution.

"It's a generation that has grown up being taught that violence isn't the first action. That's what we have been teaching them, and they are acting it out now," Cheney said.

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