High School Students Win Anti-War Information Table Victory
Susan Notes: I repeat a question I've been asking a lot lately: When will educators follow the lead of students?
If not today, when?
For weeks, our club at Kennedy High School, Youth Against War and Racism, had planned to set up an anti-war information table at lunch
on Wednesday, Feb. 23. This was the day military recruiters were scheduled to visit the school.
But Tuesday morning, our principal, Ron Simmons, was visited by representatives from the American Legion. They threatened to withdraw financial support from our school unless we were forbidden from tabling Wednesday. District Superintendent Gary Prest, also pressured by the American Legion, called Principal Simmons, telling him to shut us down.
However, we were not about to accept this flagrant violation of our right to free speech or allow the American Legion to blackmail our
This was not the first time Kennedy students had to battle the administration. In fact, this repression followed months of negotiations to get the rigt to set up a table. A school district lawyer finally confirmed we had equal tabling rights to the recruiters.
On December 8, the recruiters came and we set up our first counter-recruitment table next to them. The recruiters' table was abandoned. Meanwhile, our table was mobbed by hundreds of interested students who asked questions, signed petitions, took flyers and pamphlets, and discussed politics. By the end of the day we collected 120 signatures for the petition against recruiters being allowed to invade our school. Over 100 more signed in the following days.
We decided to fight back
Our previous organization and victory meant everyone in the group was confident enough to fight back against this new, more serious
We organized an emergency meeting Tuesday evening, and plotted our next moves. Fourteen active members showed up and decided to table in
violation of the administration's decree. If they demanded we take down our table we would refuse, regardless of the consequences.
We drafted a flier and petition to hand out to students asking them to support our free speech rights. We sent a solidarity appeal to
progressive groups across the country asking them to call the superintendent and principal in protest, and we called a press conference after school in our cafeteria. We intended to show the
administration that if they were going to violate the constitution so flagrantly, they would do it over our resistance, and they would do it publicly.
When lunch period began we assembled the tables, and began to sell buttons, hand out informational leaflets, and play guitar, eliciting a very positive response.
But the principal demanded that we remove our table. When we refused, the administrators began to physically remove our materials themselves. They told us our after-school meeting/press conference was cancelled, and threatened us with three days' suspension. In this situation, we decided it was better to accept their offer to meet with the superintendent rather than stick around with no materials to pass out.
Meanwhile, the solidarity appeal was making its way around the globe via e-mail. Members of Socialist Alternative, with whom we have been
working closely, compiled the press list and helped to distribute the solidarity appeal. Within hours, the appeal reached tens of thousands of inboxes, resulting in the principal and superintendent being swamped with calls. As Principal Simmons later let slip: "It's been
Due to all of the calls and the threat of press coverage, combined with our active resistance, our meeting with the superintendent was of
a decidedly different character than the earlier confrontation with the principal. He presented himself as all smiles, and quickly gave in
to all our demands, trying to play it off as a big misunderstanding.
Our teach-in after school was highly successful with 30-40 students and a number of parents and community supporters attending. We received press coverage in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minnesota Public Radio, as well as several other publications and radio stations. Even Michael Moore put our story and a picture of our
teach-in on his website! At the end of the day, the students left feeling elated, organized, and strong.
Spread the Campaign!
Even before our most recent success, Kennedy students and Socialist Alternative were working to launch Youth Against War and Racism as a
Twin Cities network for students to come together and fight to end the occupation of Iraq, to cut the bloated military budget and fund education, to end military recruitment in schools, and to oppose the government's racist attacks on civil liberties.
It is essential that we stand up and take action against military recruiters. The entire U.S. war machine relies on the willingness of young people to join the military and carry out the imperialist policies ordered by corrupt politicians. If we build a mass movement of young people against the war that exposes the lies of Bush and the military recruiters, the military will be unable to guarantee a stable
supply of youth to use as cannon fodder.
And just like in the Vietnam War, the spread of mass dissent within the U.S. armed forces will be the key to bringing down U.S. imperialism in Iraq and ending this brutal occupation.
We can't count on the government or our school administrators to stop military recruiters from spreading their lies. We need to take it upon
ourselves to educate and organize our fellow students, and to make our schools off-limits to recruiters. If every time they show up we
provide an overwhelmingly unwelcome environment, they will simply stop coming. Already at Kennedy, in stark contrast to the six to 10
recruiters who usually show up, only one came this time.
By spreading this campaign, we can do this at every school across the Twin Cities, and every school across the country.
Brandon Madsen and Matt Johnson, Kennedy High Students
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