News and reports

March 28, 2008

Protesting five years of war

A WEEK of antiwar activities in Portland, Ore., culminated on March 20 with a student walkout that drew more than 2,000 students. The larger-than-expected crowd began in the downtown North Park Blocks where students chanted, and a couple of rally organizers spoke.

"We realize that we aren't being taught what we need in order to end this occupation, and so have learned that we must educate ourselves if we want to make a difference," said Sarah Levy, a Lincoln High School senior. "The goal for today is to reinvigorate the student antiwar movement, and demonstrate through struggle the immense power that we can have as a mass of students."

What started as an unpermitted march on the sidewalk soon slipped out of the organizers' control as the crowd quickly completed the short route and decided to continue. When they reached City Hall, some students began scaling the walls, and a small group of organizers, realizing the moment's potential, began scribbling a list of demands on a piece of notebook paper.

After quickly settling on four demands (funding for schools not the military, no more funding for ROTC programs, military recruiters out of Portland schools, and making Portland a sanctuary city for GI resisters), some organizers tried to enter City Hall but found the doors locked.

The mayor had already left the building to address the crowd, but few protesters could hear the mayor's speech above the chanting--and few seemed to care. Then a number of students began yelling to continue to Pioneer Square, and the march was again on the move. On the way, police arrested a few students for stepping off the sidewalk, handcuffing one and forcing him into a cop car in front of the crowd.

After angry chants of "Let him go!" the incident backfired on the police as the protest split into two and took to the streets. The police, taken by surprise, could not stop the crowd. After forming a gigantic human peace sign at the Willamette River waterfront, marchers strolled back to Portland State University where people discussed the possibilities for future student organizing.

In Providence, R.I., at least 150 people came out to protest despite a cold rain. The march was spirited with a small brass band and several bullhorns leading chants through the city and was primarily made up of people mobilized by a variety of local organizations, including the R.I. Spring Mobilization Committee, East Bay Citizens for Peace, MoveOn, Students for a Democratic Society and the ISO.

In Boston, about 100 people gathered in pouring rain to mark the fifth anniversary of the war, organized primarily by United for Justice with Peace. At Harvard University, about 70 people--mostly students--held a spirited march, chanting and making noise. The protest was led largely by the Harvard Antiwar Coalition.

In Amherst, Mass., more than 150 people attended an antiwar vigil sponsored by MoveOn at the Grace Episcopal Church, which was forced inside due to rain. Al Sanchez and Mike Van Valkenburg of Iraq Veterans Against the War spoke about their experiences in the military as well as at the Winter Soldier event in Washington, D.C., the previous weekend.

Tristan Brosnan, Eric Rehder and Keith Rosenthal contributed to this report.

Rhode Island budget cuts

PROVIDENCE, R.I.--Five thousand people marched here February 26 to demand that Gov. Donald Carcieri back down on plans to make up a $151 million dollar budget deficit by squeezing the poorest in the state.

The majority of the protestors were the disabled adults and their families. Carcieri has put a plan forward that would cut $5.6 million (15 percent) of the budget for caring for the state's developmentally disabled adults. The cuts were projected to force 25 group homes to close.

But in a victory, the governor caved into protesters' demands and restored the funding 10 minutes before the protest began. This is an important lesson for the other groups under attack in Rhode Island, as well as across the entire country.

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