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Tuesday, Feb. 04, 2003 at 3:36 PM
Hour of Resistance: L.A. School Walkouts
Revolutionary Worker #1186, February 9, 2003, posted at rwor.org
Cynics always try to paint the youth, especially high school students, as being apathetic, as not caring about anything or anyone. However, on Monday, January 27, when the clock struck noon, students in Fairfax High School walked out of their school in the hundreds against the war, shutting down the streets for two hours. Walkouts--speaking out against a future of war and repression--were also held in Montebello High, near East L.A.; John Burroughs HS; in Burbank, San Fernando HS; and the University of Southern California (USC) on the same day. The walkouts were coordinated by NION, in response to a call made nationwide for an hour of resistance, and were organized by the students themselves.
At Fairfax, of the several hundred students, there were kids from all the different scenes. They were mainly Black and Latino, but there were hip-hop heads, punks, anarchists, and the anti-war activists who organized the walkout. More than half the student body was there. The youth were rowdy--yelling, chanting, and excited that they had taken over the streets. To show their opposition to the unjust war in Iraq, the students took over the corner of Fairfax and Melrose and held a sit-in right in the middle of the street.
When the L.A. school district heard about the walkout, they unleashed the LAPD riot police on the youth. About 50 riot police were sent to the school. The students were fearless though. A member of the Youth Network of NION described them like this: "The students were really fierce, standing up against the war at first and when the police came in to quiet them down, they did not back down." The police were in full riot gear and were aiming beanbag shotguns at people's heads. They shut down the streets around the school. Police cars were hit with bottles and rocks when they rode through the crowd of students. The youth chanted, "Fuck the war! Fuck the Police!"
One of the organizers of the walkout, Sam, a junior at Fairfax and member of the Youth Network of NION, was arrested and detained when he supposedly crossed a "police scrimmage line," but Sam said there wasn't any scrimmage line. Sam told me, "They just didn't like what I was doing. They tossed me in the back of a squad car and took me to the Hollywood Police Station. They didn't give me a ticket, they just detained me, just to suppress my right to speak." The cops told the legal observers that Sam was being arrested for "inciting a riot." When he was picked up by the police, students chanted, "Let him go!" After a couple of hours of detainment, Sam was released to his parents.
When the action was ended after an hour or so, the students went back into the school auditorium for a speak-out and teach-in. Some NION members went around Melrose Ave., while the streets were still closed, asking the shop owners to put up the NION globe poster on their windows. The shop owners were helping activists tape up the posters and showing their support for the walkout. A couple of shop owners actually confronted the cops and told them that they were scaring away their business, and told them to leave. The arrogant cops responded, "Don't you think it's these kids that are scaring away your customers?" An Iranian shop owner assured, "No, it's you. These kids are standing up against the war, they want peace in the world. I want peace in the world too, so I support them. I support them, and we want them to be out here."
Things happened a little differently at Montebello High School. Crystal explained to me how she organized her school, "I got this flyer and made more than 200 copies and started passing them out in school. By the next day, everybody knew about the walkout. Kids started planning different things, like making banners." As soon as the principal found out what was being planned, he started to send the security guards to bully the students. Anyone who was caught with a flyer was interrogated until Crystal fearlessly announced that she was planning a walkout. The principal called the walkout illegal. Crystal said that on the day of the walkout the atmosphere in the school was tense. Teachers were giving speeches about why the students shouldn't walk out, while the youth were excited and scared at the same time, but at 12 p.m. everybody left their class.
The school was like a prison, with a spiked 10-foot fence all around. On that day the "prison" was guarded heavily by the principal (the warden) and the police. Security guards barred doors closed with chains; while police guarded the door from the outside, a helicopter circled the school, and six to eight squad cars patrolled the streets.
The youth and their rebel spirit were not bogged down by this though. Some were having a sit-in in the school field, and some gathered to figure out ways to walk out. When students saw that they couldn't get out through the front door, some started jumping the fence. About twenty kids jumped, and raised their protest signs and placards. The cops isolated this one youth, and as soon as he jumped the fence, he was socked in the face. A member of the RCYB was arrested when he was doing agitation over the bullhorn. He was detained for five hours and later released, confiscating his backpack and bullhorn, and charging him with three misdemeanors.
While all this was happening the principal was going after Crystal for organizing this action. She explained to me how she got detained and handcuffed by the principal: "I was running to the front gate when they got me, and the principal told me to go to his office. I walked out the building, through another way, and kept protesting through the school." Later, when Crystal was caught again, the principal instructed a security guard to put handcuffs on her. The principal grabbed Crystal by the left arm, and shook her, bruising her really bad. Crystal still resisted, she escaped the principal's office twice. When she was trying to jump the fence of her school, a security guard grabbed her by the belt, pulling the belt off of her and slamming her on the ground. Later they tried to expel her from Montebello High, but NION members and her mom came to defend her. They pointed out the bruises on Crystal's arms and scared the principal into letting her back into school. On Wednesday, January 29, another walkout was organized at a nearby school called Schurr High School.
Other walkouts happened throughout Los Angeles on the 27th. In John Burroughs High School in Burbank 150 students walked out. Students who walked out were given Saturday School for truancy, but students are fighting this, saying that it's only because of political reasons that they're being given Saturday School, and this is supposedly illegal.
In San Fernando High School Roberto, who is 16, was attempting to walk out with a couple of dozen students when they were stopped by administration and school security as they were making their way to the gate. Roberto, who was holding a banner, was thrown to the ground by the school dean and later kicked out of the school for organizing, but NION will fight for him and against the school for doing this in the first place.
The walkouts on Monday have challenged other high schools and different campuses to do the same. Other walkouts are being planned for different schools.
Actions were also held on college campuses like the University of Southern California and Cal State Northridge (CSUN). At USC, Carl Dix, national spokesperson for the RCP, took part in a speakout to mark the hour of resistance, and there was a sizeable student walkout. On Wednesday, January 29, at CSUN 500 people marched and spoke out against the ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) on that campus. This action was organized by Students Against War. They had guerrilla theatre that mocked the school president--who they are pressuring to remove ROTC.
When I talked with older people about the actions on that day, they said they were moved and inspired when they saw all these youth walk out of school at Fairfax High. When high school students walk out, it puts these war pigs on the defensive. They always try to portray the youth as not caring about anything, but when we step out in numbers, like we did in Montebello, in Fairfax High, and USC, it shows people that no, we're not having this future of war and repression. It challenges other schools and other people to step out in that way. When these actions get attacked by the police in an attempt to scare the youth and to silence us, it just exposes their reactionary police-state repression.
No, the youth will not be silenced, and we will not be broken, because the future of the planet is on the line.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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