Truant officers? Not a one. But students who decided a better education could be had skipping class than studying calculus? They numbered in the hundreds. And, with fists pumping the air, they followed their own lesson plan: that young people want nothing to do with the War in Iraq.
Ranging from middle school to college age, more than 400 students swarmed Westlake Center on Nov. 16, as part of a massive student walkout called by Youth Against War and Racism. Some were decked out in anarchist gear — dark-hued hoodies and bandanas knotted about their throats — while others chose the hip-hugging jeans and well-coiffed hairdos favored by pop idols. But no matter how they looked, all were intent on ensuring their voices were heard.
“Why do I march?” someone boomed into a microphone on a stage. “The question is: ‘Why don’t you march?’” Teens screamed themselves hoarse in agreement.
Taking it all in was Hillary Olsen. Olsen, 20, said she thought U.S. propaganda had distorted people’s comprehension of world events. As evidence, she pointed to a four-question quiz from the peace organization, The World Can’t Wait, reprinted in Revolution newpaper, which she held in her hands. When asked, for example, which Middle East country will neither confirm nor deny it has a nuclear weapons program, she said hardly anyone knew it was Israel.
“Most people answer Iran,” she said, deflated.
Even while discouraged by the dominance of misinformation, Olsen, who’ll be attending Seattle Central Community College next year, said she was heartened to see so many of her peers. “It’s important, because in this country,” she said, “people feel there’s not much we can do.”
“Let’s show President Bush who really runs the country!!!” someone yelled from the podium. Hoots and hollers greeted his call. A 10-foot tall skeleton puppet shook its bloody arms.
Taking the mic, a young woman entreated the crowd: “Come on, let’s march!”
Rejecting the single-file mindset that sustains schoolyard fire drills, the young people thronged at the corner of Fourth Ave. and Pine St. A young man led a chant of “This is what democracy looks like!” into a megaphone. Photographers darted before the crowd, snapping pictures. “OK, let’s go!” The crowd spilled onto the street.
Just to the left of a trio of teens carrying tiny stuffed animals, Nathaniel Cushman strolled calmly as the crowd headed south on Second Ave. The 18-year old Arlington student said he would do anything to get the message to Bush that the war was wrong, including walking out of class. Last year, his whole school — 160 students — walked out to protest the war. He felt the Westlake Center rally was a continuation of young people’s commitment to activism.” It shows how it’s changing.”
The crowd stopped at an intersection. The marchers screamed. Cars honked horns.
Of the people gathered, he said, “They’re learning what fuels the economy.”
According to 16-year-old Jesse Koda, that fuel would be oil. “I don’t believe troops should be in Iraq for a greedy reason,” Koda asserted. The war is nonsense, she went on, and, while she supported the troops, she believed it was important for students to come out against the Iraqi occupation. “The more people that show up, no matter their age,” said Koda, “it makes a difference.”
“One, two, three, four, we don’t want your fucking war!” another megaphone-enhanced voice behind her screamed. Koda blushed.
Manny McIvor, her face blanched with the cool winds whipping down the avenue, had come up from Portland to protest a war that had touched her own life. With a mother in the Army since her birth, McIvor said they were living in Hawaii when her mother got called up to go to Iraq. It was Valentine’s Day, 2005. She left the next month, missing McIvor’s 18th birthday and her graduation. When her mother, a nurse, returned 18 months later, she said she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. “She was a mess,” McIvor recalled, the memory bringing on a faraway look.
The crowd, led by a phalanx of officers on motorcycles, viewed by groups of adults peering out of office windows, surged forward.
“This illegal war causes so much pain,” she said. McIvor sped up to join her companions. Together, they chanted their way into the heart of the city.