The New Generation in Oakland: Up Against the Authorities

by Sabra

Revolutionary Worker #1203, June 15, 2003, posted at

"This is a time when people have to watch what they say and watch what they do."

Ari Fleischer, White House spokesman, after Sept. 11, 2001

It sounds like a scene out of a Kafka novel or some old movie about the Gestapo:

On April 22, an Oakland High School class was discussing current events. The teacher asked students what they thought of the war in Iraq. Two students, both 16 and Southeast Asian immigrants, made a comment that the teacher interpreted as being a "threat": to George Bush II. Then, in keeping with the snitch mentality and that "call the Feds first and ask questions later" atmosphere pumped up in society, this teacher called the Secret Service on her students!

The next thing they knew the two students were dragged into a school office to be grilled and terrorized by two Secret Service agents. Only the principal was there. No lawyer was present. The students' parents weren't even notified until weeks after this happened.

According to the Bay View newspaper, when the students said they knew their rights, the agents responded: "You have no rights. You belong to us now." The agents threatened the students with prison and their families with deportation.

Imagine this: An off-hand kind of comment, heard every day in high schools all over the country, lands two 16-year-olds in the sights of federal agents.

Let's get real: The Secret Service did not jack up these two youth because they were ever afraid of some "threat" to George Bush. And many youth know it.

Marijane, an Oakland High School student, told the RW that even before this happened, politically active students have been harassed. She thinks this visit was meant to inspire fear: "They were trying to scare the student population. What I found out recently is that there has never been this much student activity before.... And I guess that's why it intimidates them."

In recent months, the people of Oakland, principally youth, have been striking fear in the hearts of the authorities:

In January, the people ruled the streets for hours after the Oakland Raiders lost the Super Bowl, smashing cop cars and TV news vans.

On May 26, the masses again held the streets for hours after the Carijama festival, which celebrates Afro-Caribbean culture. Cops in riot gear lashed out with stinger grenades.

The authorities have been especially brutal with anti-war protesters:

The March 5 high school walkouts saw motorcycle cops running right through crowds of mostly young protesters. And Oakland cops got international attention when they shot rubber bullets directly at marchers blocking the Oakland docks on April 7.

The youth of Oakland have joined the millions of their generation to protest the war on Iraq. All across Oakland, thousands of high school youth defied motorcycle police, locked gates, and lying school officials to protest the war on Iraq.

Many of these battles went down at Oakland High. On March 5 the school's gates were chained shut in order to keep the students from walking out. Students had to fight security guards, who pulled them off fences to keep them inside. But they got through and joined a thousand other youth from all over East Bay who walked out and took the streets, marching right down Broadway behind a big "Not In Our Name" banner. A sign held by a Black youth read, "No Iraqi ever called me N*gger."

The week of March 20, Oakland High students walked out twice--first to protest budget cuts and again the next day to join a citywide walkout protesting Bush's declaration of war on Iraq.

Their movement, and especially the walkout against Bush's declaration of war, have been slandered in the press. Reporters have tried to portray the youth as "uninformed." Media commentators have said the students have no right to be out in the streets if they couldn't place Iraq on a map--this in a country where the president can't even put together a clear sentence!

Marijane told the RW that when reporters talked to students, they would only ask the youth to name the three countries surrounding Iraq--or the TV news would edit footage about an entire walkout to give some distorted image of what the students were up to.

Big Brother America

"You think you're protected, you think that `I'm an American, I have rights, nothing can happen to me, I'm protected,' and then something like this happens all of a sudden."

Samantha, Oakland student

The Secret Service incident at Oakland High has been a huge wakeup call for many people. Many are still struggling to make sense of the implications of this.

Oakland High's principal, Clement Mok, has completely defended having called the Secret Service. He recently told a local newspaper: "On the one hand, we're encouraging students to be critical thinkers and have an open mind, but on the other hand, as a school, we have a responsibility to teach having respect for authority and our leaders, even if we don't agree with all of their policies.... There are limits, and there's a line that students now know they shouldn't cross."

Welcome to the new Big Brother America--where the Secret Service is now enforcing "respect for authority." Where teachers are told it's their "patriotic duty" to snitch on students. Where students are harassed for political activity, beaten by security guards, and threatened with suspension for walking out. Where Arab men are disappeared off the streets under the vague cloud of "terrorist links" and the Feds organize raids on the homes of international college students who drop a class.

It's not just high school students or youth from the oppressed nationalities that are feeling it: Just recently, a white performance artist from Emeryville, California (the home of Pixar Studios), was hauled into a police station and interrogated by the Secret Service for yelling anti-Bush comments in a hardware store run by a military veteran.

The New Generation

Samantha, a 17-year-old student in the Oakland school system, talked about why she opposed the war: "It's not right. It's like, people don't deserve to die for your profit motive. People don't deserve to die because you want to occupy a land, to conquer it, to be able to have control politically, economically, over them.... Those are our brothers and sisters over there."

Welcome to this new generation--youth who have listened to their teachers drone on about the great "democracy" that is America, and then watched George Bush II rob the election. Youth who have caught their "wiser" elders in bald-faced lies. Youth who know that the emperor has no clothes.

Welcome to the youth like Samantha, who first "got angry" at 15, who now rebels against the commands to "sit down and just do your work, just get those A's...and go off to college and just be silent."

Furious Over Secret Service Harassment

Teachers and students are still furious over the Secret Service incident. Many students have taken to taunting Principal Mok with anti-Bush slogans and saying things like, "What are you going to do, call the FBI?"

The two interrogated students and their families are justifiably freaked out and trying to fight this. They have contacted the Asian Law Caucus and other community groups in the Bay Area and are exploring their legal options.

The Oakland Education Association, the teachers' union, passed a resolution saying, "We deplore this blatant infringement of students' free speech and academic freedom. Students have a right to discuss their opinions on any subject without the fear of reprisal or threats from law enforcement. We will not allow the atmosphere of repression against dissent and immigrants to pervade our schools and community."

Teachers, students, and activists have joined forces and formed the Coalition Against Repression in Schools. They are planning speakouts and actions over the summer to protest.

Samantha said to the RW : "If you don't fight for your freedom, no one else is going to fight for your freedom. If you believe in something, you have to stand up and say that you believe in that, do whatever it takes to reach your goal."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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