"Our Generation Does Not Have Borders"

Notes from the student antiwar movement in New York

Revolutionary Worker #1178, December 8, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org

The following article was written by Osage from the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade and two Not In Our Name youth organizers.

"Our generation does not have borders. It stretches from Colombia to Somalia to Afghanistan to Yemen to the Philippines to the U.S. And around the world, whole groups of our generation are dying at the hands of the U.S. government, in our names. As members of this generation, it's our duty to defend our brothers and sisters around the world from the unjust actions of this government... We will do this on our terms, NOT YOURS... We will not accept this just because the government, the media and other so-called authorities say it's for our own good. We look out for the good of the people of the world."

From a letter written by
NYC high school students working with the NION Project in NYC

The morning of November 20, the news reported that U.S. and British planes had bombed near Baghdad three times--after the imperialists claimed Iraq "provoked" them by firing defensively in a "no-fly zone."

In the U.S., shortly before November 20, it became law that students, tourists, businessmen and any other visitors to the United States who are male, at least 16 years old, and come from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria or Sudan must report to an Immigration and Naturalization Service office by December 16 or face criminal charges or deportation.

This is the new normalcy we have been waking up to since September 11. This is the new normalcy our generation and others are being asked to accept supposedly "for our own good and safety."

But a significant number of us who live in the U.S. have said NO to all this. And we youth and students have been trying to figure out how to not just speak out on the issues, but how to become a force that can contribute to stopping this war from happening at all.

Making an Idea a Reality

History has always looked to colleges and universities as bastions of progress. As students, we maintain a unique position in society. If for a brief period, we are primarily dedicating ourselves to the pursuit of knowledge and an understanding of the world. Considering this, two important questions arise: What does it mean to be a student on the forefront of social and scientific inquiry? and, What is our responsibility to society at large? We are at once learners and leaders. We move to address the second question. Responsibility? College students are like a reserve army of people who are entrusted to question: and we must. To study and not to act is to betray those that are not afforded the opportunity to study. As we acquire a more thorough understandings of the world, we must move to change it: from the laboratory to the schoolhouse to the camera to the streets, in our personal situations and our larger communities.

From a Call for November 20 by students at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts

We must bring forward the vision of a movement against the war acts and repression of "our own" U.S. government that is so powerful that it cannot be hidden from the masses of people all over the world--including in the countries and areas that are targets of U.S. imperialist aggression and are, justifiably, "hotbeds" of hatred "against America... Imagine the inspiration it will provide and the potential realignment it will contribute to--with ordinary people worldwide finding common cause against the oppressors and bullies of the world, first and above all the rulers of America --who, it will be more and more clear, do not speak and act in the interests, or in the name of large, and growing, numbers of American people themselves....

Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP

November 20 started out as just an idea.

Coming out of the "Not in Our Name" mass demonstrations on October 6, those of us in the thick of building resistance knew we could build on the momentum we had. Students everywhere were saying we needed something monumental, something unifying. So we began to formulate an idea--a day of student and youth action, rallying people across the country to use their voices in a powerful way.

We leafleted the October 26 International ANSWER rally in Washington, DC and sent e-mails to our contacts across the country.

Many people were enthusiastic and ready to spread the resistance. Others were unsure and had questions. And some people were just disbelieving. Opposition came in different forms. We were told we couldn't do it, it was too much to accomplish in too little time. Or people said it would offend teachers to walk out of classes they had prepared for. Some argued that going to school--something denied to youth in large parts of the world--is an act of resistance. Many said they planned to protest the war after it starts but didn't see the need to resist the war now . But we pushed forward.


Many schools and youth took up the day. Some students planned teach-ins, sit-ins, die-ins, rallies, speak-outs and street theatre. Here in "ground zero," in New York, we called for a citywide walk-out and speak-out. Many youth were inspired and took up organizing for the day hardcore, especially the NYU Peace Coalition and YouthBloc, a network of high school students.

At LaGuardia High School, students planned a teach-in for the Friday before the walkouts. When speakers arrived with materials comparing Iraq's UN violations to the greater number of Israel's UN violations, they were shut out and not allowed to speak--even though 80 kids were waiting to hear them speak. The organizers, some of whom were Jewish, were followed and intimidated by administrators and taunted by Zionist students calling them anti-Semitic.

In cities where student organizers had planned walkouts, they were threatened with suspensions, letters to parents, and more. It was clear that some people didn't want us to carry out our plans and they were going to fight our dream as hard as they could. Some disbelief even leaked into our circles of resistance, with some people becoming convinced that maybe this was too big for us to take on. But even as discouragement ruled in some communities, resistance was built and grew in others. In fact, many of the students facing the harshest consequences were the boldest in building for November 20.

We started to understand that if we didn't work for this like it would impact our lives in a major way, then it simply wouldn't make the impact that was needed.

Here in New York, we fought to get permits from the city, meeting with lawyers every day, struggling for our right to dissent where we wanted. At LaGuardia and on progressive radio stations, word spread of the attempt by the school administration to silence students--and support grew for the citywide walkouts. The administration at LaGuardia had to back down from their clampdown. Some students wrote letters to teachers asking for their support.

The Joy of Taking the Streets

The morning of November 20 came. Principals at different high schools woke up, ready to make suspensions. And 2,000 New York City students woke up, ready to risk whatever they might face to walk out in solidarity with the Iraqi people and to protest U.S. plans for war.

Considering all the things students were confronting--from complacency and doubt from peers to serious threats of suspension from principals--we weren't really sure how many students would walk out, but we were determined to make ourselves heard no matter what.

We gathered at Union Square under a heavy police presence, with no permit and lots of nervous energy. At first there were only five of us, but we quickly grew to 50 and then to 500! We represented different nationalities, parts of the city, political ideas and schools. There were kids from groups like the Green Party, No Blood for Oil, War Resisters League, the ISO, YouthBloc, NYU Peace Coalition, and the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade --and kids who didn't have any political group affiliations. Dozens of high schools, both private and public, were present, as well as Ivy League and community colleges. Some of us were active in different resistance movements and had been to many protests while others had never been to anything like this before.

We grew to over 2,000 when 1,000 loud and boisterous youth came marching in from New York University. We had 30 big, beautiful globe flags and since we didn't have a sound permit, youth stood on a wall and yelled chants to the crowd: "They want us silent/they want us tame/this war on the world is not in our name!" and "Tapping our phones/reading our mail/the FBI should go to jail!"

Many of the kids walked because they're outraged at what the U.S. is doing. One 18-year-old from Hunter College said, "We're fighting against the war. As young people we should have control over what happens to the world." A student from Friends Seminary said, "I think we need to come together and try to stand up for the people who can't afford to stand up themselves, you know the people in Iraq who have nothing to do with anything that's going on in the current world, we need to stand up for them." A student from NYU said, "I am here because I have a problem with us going to war, it is not necessary. This war is not waged by the U.S. but a small group of people who are waging it. As youth, we need to stand together and not stop fighting for change. If enough people come together, we can stop the war."

The police and some lawyers told us we couldn't go down Broadway, even on the sidewalk, that we'd have to take a less populated street. But we were not letting them dictate the day. We started to move, chanting, "We're taking fucking Broadway!" And we did! We started out on the sidewalk--the march about three city blocks long. Then all of a sudden, we were in the street! The sight of all these youth, constantly told they have no right to speak or think about anything, especially if it concerns the world, had FILLED the busiest street in Manhattan!

There were a lot of cop vans, cars, buses and even a helicopter in the area and the police tried to use every opportunity to push kids back on the sidewalk. But the youth just laughed back or yelled, "Fuck you!" There were thousands of us and we just couldn't be contained! We were in the streets running, jumping, hugging, playing drums, fists in the air, yelling, "I can't believe we're doing this!"

As one NION organizer said, "It was unbelievable when the youth took the streets. Walking down Broadway, I was excited and unsure of what was to come. It seemed like people wanted different things, different directions, both physical and metaphorical, for the march to go in. I just wanted to make sure people stayed together. Awhile into the march, while the majority of the crowd was still on the sidewalk, some other organizers and I were discussing whether or not we should officially take the streets. Then we turned around and it was like--whoa! The youth had already flooded Broadway! It was loud and insane and people were chanting so loud that I'm sure they heard us on the other side of Manhattan. That's the kind of sentiment that has to be expressed at every step along the way of this movement."

We marched into Washington Square Park for a youth speak-out. The MCs--Miles Solay from Refuse & Resist! and Naomi, a high school student who is a part of Not In Our Name and Riot Grrl, congratulated the youth on what we had accomplished--walking out, taking the street and simply being the audacious generation we are!

As different students took the mic, we made it clear that we were not the misinformed "I don't know where Iraq is" generation the news has made us out to be. Many youth said oil is behind the government's plan for war, not the "safety of Americans." One student pointed to a playground on the other side of the park and said, "If they were in Iraq they could be dead in a few days. There could be dozens of silent playgrounds all over Iraq! We are not going to let that happen!" Students called out the racism that has been drummed up against Arab and Muslim immigrants, and the state-led repression and attacks like interrogations, detentions and deportations. A group of NYU students led the crowd in burning their "preemptive draft cards." Some students sang and rapped their dissent and put it in poems. We read the Not In Our Name Pledge of Resistance with fists in the air.

One student came up and said, "This goes out to my principal who threatened me with suspension. FUCK YOU!!! You are not in danger of being drafted. I AM!!! And I am not going to sit in your fucking school and be intimidated by you!"

Naomi addressed crowd saying, "As young people, our voices are constantly being censored, and if we can manage to be heard, it is that much more powerful. We need to be powerful, because we are being asked to go over and fight a war against our brothers and sisters in Iraq... What's more, everything that happens across the ocean is reflected in our communities here. As the young people of Iraq are slaughtered, the young people in this country who are Muslim, South Asian, Arabic or just general dissenters are being stalked and spied on and will soon be rounded up as well--not to mention the daily mistreatment and abuse of youth and other frequently profiled groups by the police."

This is Just the Beginning...

We heard reports about students all over the country who had overcome difficulties to rise up in powerful protests--proving once again that the greatest power of all is the power of the people.

At the October 6 NION demonstration in Central Park, a member of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade said, "In order to get at the people of the world, the U.S. government must feel like they have to go through our generation." This has gotten into our hearts and guided a lot of us because we--the rebelling youth--have very different plans for our generation than the plans made by the powers-that-be. Rather than being cannon fodder in the imperialists' war machine, or Nazi youth in the U.S., we will lead others by example to stand with the people of the world. Knowing we are doing something the whole world is crying out for sustains a lot of us.

As one letter from a group of high school students says, "In 50 years, the Asses of Evil will be gone, but we will not be. And we have a responsibility to make sure that our brothers and sisters in Iraq aren't gone either. And we can do this. As students, this has to be our priority. School will continue to be there. But the chance to stop this war won't always be. We have to act now, while we can."

In this same spirit, a report from NION the evening of November 29 declared, "To anyone who thought we would keep our mouths shut, sit in class and let this war be waged in our names, to all those who said it couldn't be done... This is what we have to say to you! This war is not going to happen in our names! The detentions and round-ups of our Arab and Muslim brothers and sisters are not going to happen in our names! This war on the world and the shredding of civil liberties is not going to happen in our names! In fact, we are going to prevent it from happening at all!!! And this is the just the beginning."

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