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News and reports

February 24, 2006 | Pages 14 and 15

Million votes for peace
Keep Chicago Schools open
Marriage rights are equal rights

No to war and occupation

SOUTH HADLEY, Mass.--"NSA on the attack. What do we do? Stand up, fight back!" chanted some two dozen antiwar activists, most of them students at Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Academy (PVPA) and Holyoke Community College (HCC).

The students came together February 16 outside the U.S. Armed Forces Recruiting Station on a bitterly cold afternoon. "We're here to call attention to the links between the war in Iraq, the government's war on dissent and the economic draft that forces many students to choose combat because they can't afford an education," said Mike Fiorentino of the PVPA Antiwar Committee.

Taryn Biggs of the HCC Anti-War Coalition agreed. "Every semester, our tuition and fees go up, and financial aid becomes harder to get," said Taryn. "It's obscene to spend billions of dollars to kill Afghanis and Iraqis when kids can't afford an education, and New Orleans is still devastated." "No wonder the powers that be fear dissent," she said, pointing at the police cars keeping a close watch on the students.

It wasn't possible to ask the recruiters for their opinions. As soon as they heard the activists were coming, they closed up shop.

-- In Rochester, N.Y., activists from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Antiwar organized counter-recruitment activities at Rush Henrietta Senior High School for two days in mid-February, with the help of several students at the school.

RIT Antiwar first met the students at an antiwar protest in downtown Rochester, and the citywide group Rochester Anti-War (RAW) helped obtain permission to go into the high school. The law states that schools must grant equal time to groups interested in giving an opposing viewpoint to military recruiters, and RAW members met with the Rochester city school board and school administration to secure their approval.

The students that RIT Antiwar activists met expressed interest in starting their own antiwar group and plan to get involved with planning for the antiwar march on March 18, the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion.

-- In New York City, the Queens Anti-War Committee held a meeting to discuss the war and the potential growth of the antiwar movement in Jackson Heights, including counter-recruitment activities on campuses and in communities.

The panel of speakers included Victor Paredes, whose brother Pablo refused to board his Navy ship that would carry thousands of young men and women to fight in an immoral war; Nick Bergreen from City College and the Campus Antiwar Network, who was targeted by security guards and the police after voicing his opposition to the war; young sisters from the Youth Activists/Youth Allies, an alliance dedicated to fighting injustice; Bob Fertik from; and Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Mark Clinton, Daniel Cummings and Michael Sherton contributed to this report.

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Million votes for peace
By Cindy Kaffen and Alison McKenna

LOS ANGELES--One hundred people gathered at Bethel AME Church in South Central LA February 18 to hear Green Party candidates and activists call for real choices in California's 2006 elections.

The speakers included California Green Party candidates Peter Camejo and Donna Warren, who are running for governor and lieutenant governor; Todd Chretien, who is running for Senate; and Sarah Knopp, who is running for state superintendent of public instruction.

Most Californians feel intense disgust at Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, so the pressure will be on to vote for the "lesser-evil" Democratic Party candidates. But the candidates challenged the audience to ask themselves, "Why should I vote for a party that does not represent me or my interests?"

The Green Party is taking on the issues that the other candidates aren't addressing--ending the war on the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, ending the attacks on immigrants, and spending money on education and human welfare.

Other speakers included Barbara Becnel, who led the movement to stop the execution of Stan Tookie Williams, and Nativo Lopez, president of the Mexican American Political Association.

Speakers pointed out that far from being an opposition party, the Democratic Party has actively supported the war, California's draconian "three strikes" law and the anti-immigrant Operation Gatekeeper (supported by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and signed into law by President Bill Clinton), which has led to the deaths of more than 4,000 people at the U.S.-Mexico border. "We need to run on the issues that the movements are bringing up, instead of trying to stifle those demands," said Chretien. "We need to say bring the troops home now and stop the racist death penalty."

"We are facing literally do-or-die issues," said Becnel. "History is being written now. We need to ask, what role do we need to play? We need to build a new civil rights movement for the 21st century."

More campaign information is available at

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Keep Chicago schools open

HUNDREDS OF Chicagoans have protested in recent weeks against plans to close four "low performing" schools.

On February 2, roughly 150 people turned out at one of the schools slated for closure, Collins High School, to hear local politicians, neighborhood activists, members of the Chicago Teachers' Union (CTU), and Collins students and teachers blast the plan as an unfair attack on poor children of color and a strategy to bust the teachers' union.

"What they're doing is what they've always done--disrespect this community!" proclaimed Dr. Grady Jordan, Collins' first principal and a leader in the 1970s struggle to even have a high school in the mostly Black Lawndale neighborhood.

In the following days, several busloads of community members took this message to school board hearings scheduled for each school closure. And on February 18, some 60 educators from around the city gathered at a Teachers for Social Justice meeting to discuss Renaissance 2010, Chicago's plan to complete the privatization of scores of public schools in the next four years.

Both the most recent batch of closures and the 31 other schools closed or "reorganized" in the past two years are located in Chicago's North, Near South or Near West sides--all areas slated for re-development. Collins, for instance, is in a newly renovated building located in the heart of a flurry of high-end condo construction.

"If you close a school, property value goes up, not test scores," explained CTU President Marilyn Stewart at the Collins event.

If these protests are to become a long-term fight that can actually stop future closings, activists need to form a citywide organization that can unify members of different neighborhoods. Additionally, this group could build strategic links between community organizers and teachers in the Chicago Teachers' Union, a crucial force that could use a strike to oppose these policies.

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Marriage rights are equal rights
By Nicole Lambert

TOLEDO, Ohio--About 50 members of EqualityToledo, a local gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) activist organization, protested an amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage. The event took place on a frosty February 14 outside the Toledo courthouse.

The amendment, which passed by a large margin in the 2004 election, is widely considered to be one of the most oppressive anti-gay marriage amendments in the country because of its language barring civil unions as well. According to an April 2005 report by the Human Rights Campaign, this amendment has been used to "deny domestic partner benefits, such as health insurance, to same-sex couples and all unmarried couples."

Though the crowd wasn't allowed to have signs on the courthouse lawn, the restriction led to a spirited march down a busy downtown sidewalk.

During the protest, the executive director of EqualityToledo, Kim Welter, and her partner, along with another same-sex couple, went into the courthouse to demand marriage licenses. The couples were denied, but we're not going to give up the struggle for the equal rights that everyone deserves.

This event was covered by the local media, and activists will need to continue to reach out and build a grassroots movement that demands that the LGBT community refuses to be treated as second-class citizens under Ohio law.

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