Classroom Struggle: School's Out For Peace, Unity And Social Justice (Article Published In The Sydney Morning Herald)

793 words - 4 pages

March 5 was a historic day. It was the beginning of an international youth movement against war on Iraq. High school students, university students and other young people united to take a message loud and clear to world leaders: there is a better solution to this conflict, and we're prepared to fight for it.The slogan? Books not bombs. Students feel that the money which will be spent on the military would be better spent on upgrading educational facilities, public housing and hospitals.The Howard Government is unwilling to say just how much money will be devoted to the war, but it is sure to be in the billions. In comparison, $1.5 billion could restore public education funding to pre-1990 levels, or increase the number of available child care places by 10 times.The tactic? To encourage students to leave their classrooms, a walkout to show their opposition to Australian involvement in war on Iraq, UN sanctioned or not.The reason for the protest? War is not the answer to terrorism, and will only result in the senseless deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis. Aid agencies, including Oxfam, estimate that 80 per cent of war casualties will be civilians. Many students carried handmade banners and placards with slogans like "No war for oil - not in my name" and "How many lives for a gallon of oil?"advertisementadvertisementThe students who attended were also protesting against other injustices and drawing links with other social issues. One speaker pointed out that refugees are the logical consequence of war, and that millions of Iraqis will be displaced.Another highlighted the plight of Iraqi women, questioning whether much will differ for them after a regime change.The mood? Passionate, exuberant, political and angry. Ten thousand young people filled Sydney with colour, music and chants as they marched from Town Hall to Hyde Park.The demonstrators felt ignored and that their only choice was to vote with their feet by walking out of school and sending the urgent message: we have a war to stop.Many students remarked to me during the day that they had never seen anything like it. One University of Sydney student put it this way: "There are two superpowers in the world today - the US and the global anti-war movement."The walkouts were likened to the mass moratoria against the Vietnam War in the '60s and '70s during a period of mass youth radicalisation.In short, the protest was an empowering celebration of unity in the face of international warmongering and a climate of increasing fear and hatred.It is becoming clearer and clearer that the vast majority of young people don't support this war. But the demonstrations on March 5 were only the tip of the iceberg of the mass anti-war sentiment that exists among our youth.Since the start of the year, anti-war groups on high schools have blossomed, and more students have started to actively campaign in their schools against war. And these young people have the support of much of the broader community too. In the run-up to the demonstration, rally organisers received calls from parents who wanted to help their sons and daughters publicise the walkout by distributing leaflets and posters.Furthermore, some P&C Associations even encouraged students to join the demonstration.But the real question is: what are the next steps for the youth anti-war movement? In a move that contrasted sharply with the Australian Government's commitment to war, despite overwhelming popular opposition to it, a proposal was put to the crowd as to whether another walkout should be called for 1pm, March 26 at Hyde Park.Students voted enthusiastically and unanimously to protest again, and to take the campaign against war and racism back to their schools too. We hope that next time we are joined by other sectors of the anti-war movement - trade unions, teachers, parents, community figureheads and others.The demonstrations confirmed two things. This war is a cutting-edge issue in politics today and John Howard has failed to convince the majority of the population that Australia should be involved.There is no democracy in this country until Howard submits to the will of the majority.


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