Students gather by hundreds for war protest
MADISON, Wisconsin (CNN) -- Students in colleges and high schools across the United States gathered in rallies Wednesday to oppose a war against Iraq.
At more than 360 schools across the country students walked out of class in protest, according to National Youth and Student Peace Coalition, the group that organized the rallies.
The Books not Bombs rallies, organized on the Internet and inspired by worldwide protests last month, took the form of relatively quiet gatherings on lush campus lawns in Southern California to marches through snow-plowed streets in a Midwest still knee-deep in winter.
Nineteen people were arrested for blocking an intersection during a rally in downtown Los Angeles, police said. Described as "older folks," not students, they were cited and released, police said.
Three people were arrested at rallies in Manhattan, police said.
Thousands of people, mostly students, marched around the University of Wisconsin in Madison, a school known for liberal thinking and student activism. The protesters beat drums, chanted "books not bombs," and held signs demanding the Bush administration "Stop the War!" and "Drop Tuition not Bombs."
A smaller counter-rally gathered nearby, with people chanting, "We're for peace and we're for liberating the Iraqi people" and holding signs such as, "Oust Saddam -- Free Iraq."
The two groups fell into a kind of mass debate at one point. The counter-rally members shouted "We support our troops."
"So do we," replied the war protesters.
On the Houston, Texas, Rice University campus, about 200 students gathered as Hannah Hawk, Houston coordinator for the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council, told them that antiwar demonstrations are gathering steam.
"In the past few weeks, there's been a new level of activism," Hawk said, referring to rallies in major cities around the world last month. "You're not in this alone. This movement crosses demographics."
Bevin Dyer helped organize a rally at Elkin High School, a school of 300 students two hours north of Charlotte, North Carolina.
Elkin High organizers worked around two lunch periods so students only missed third period. Dyer said the 100 students -- some pro-war, most not -- gathered for a two-hour meeting in the auditorium lobby. They held a mock election -- the lone question: are you for war or against? Against won.
Then students sat down and discussed whether the United States should resolve its issues with Iraq through the use of military force, she said.
"We all just talked and got the issues out," Dyer said. "No one was talking about it before. It was a very positive thing."
When asked whether any opinions were changed, Dyer said, "A few. Not many. But at least it's out in the open and there no hard feelings."
Like some of the other organizers, Dyer said she was inspired by last month's protests and a desire to show that high school students care about more than who singer Britney Spears is dating.
"I think people don't realize that we care," she said. "They think we're just interested in MTV or something. But there are kids who care and I think we really made that point today."
In Lower Manhattan, about 100 students gathered at New York University before walking five blocks north to join some 500 high school students from around New York City for a peaceful rally at Union Square. Some of the protesters then boarded subway trains for the ride up to an afternoon rally at City University of New York's Hunter College. Each of the protests were peaceful.
An unidentified student at a noon rally in downtown Seattle, Washington, said she was protesting war because its cost would be better spent on education.
"This is the third consecutive year our tuition has been risen and with the war starting it's going to be risen even more," she said.
Elsewhere, students from 20 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-area schools left their classes and converged in a march to City Hall. Leaders of that rally support U.S. opposition to Iraq but disagree with the Bush administration's way of dealing with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
"Democracy doesn't come from bombs and bullets," said Ben Waxman, a high school senior from Springfield Township, Pennsylvania. "It comes from peace and from protests."
Spencer Witte, a 20-year-old junior at the University of Pennsylvania was among those preparing for a 2-mile march to City Hall.
Witte, from Nyack, New York, said he lost friends in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the idea that the United States might be "bringing that suffering elsewhere unnecessarily really bothers me," he said.
The history major said he considers Saddam an oppressive leader, but thinks a tough policy of containment and deterrence would be more effective than the use of force.
A speaker at a noon rally in Cincinnati praised France, Russia and Germany for "making it even more difficult for us to get involved in an idiotic war" through their opposition to a new U.S.-backed U.N. resolution that would clear the way for military action in Iraq.
" I am exercising my God-given right to stand up and say 'we're not having it,'" the speaker said. "I won't let friends, cousins, and brothers and sisters get slaughtered in the Middle East without saying something."
The rallies seemed a tamer version of student protests of the Vietnam War. While those heated rallies often shut down campuses for days and sometimes weeks, Wednesday's gatherings were a bit more systematic. Fliers around college campuses and on Internet sites announced when and where each protest would begin and end. (Full story)