Sonoma County high school and college students walked out of classes Wednesday to protest a possible war against Iraq, part of a national demonstration for peace.
About 300 students gathered to listen to speeches and sing protest songs at Sonoma State University. Three hundred high school students marched to Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square. Police stopped an attempted sit-in at the military recruiting offices on Mendocino Avenue by a small number of students.
Smaller protests occurred on other high school campuses, including Analy High School in Sebastopol and Petaluma High School.
The rallies and marches were part of a national Student Day of Resistance initiated by Not in Our Name, an anti-war group founded after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to protest U.S. foreign policy.
Word of the activism is spread through Internet and e-mail contacts.
“We’re trying to raise awareness, to show students they can have a voice, and that when we come together, we can have a stronger voice,” said Stephen Dietrich, an SSU senior and a member of the Student Activist League of Sonoma, which organized the protest at the university. The league has about 10 core members.
“I don’t like seeing American boys killed, and not knowing where a war will end. Our reasons for going don’t seem to be based on any sort of hard evidence,” said Cecilie Hitchcock, an SSU graduate student who participated in the walkout.
Patrick Gardner, an SSU senior, said the economics of oil, not a quest for democracy, is behind the push for war.
He said there was no clear link between the U.S. war on terrorism and Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
“The Bush administration is putting, not only Israel, but the entire Middle East at risk,” Gardner said.
SSU did not sponsor the protest but had no problem with students’ peacefully expressing their political views, SSU spokeswoman Susan Kashach said.
“We teach our students to care about issues and to be passionate about what they believe in. And that’s what this protest is,” Kashach said.
High school students also joined in the day of protests, with some in the Old Courthouse Square rally carrying anti-war signs and shouting “No blood for oil.”
The Santa Rosa High School students will be given unexcused absences for leaving campus but were allowed to return for afternoon classes, Assistant Principal Bill Blackerby said.
Asked about future walkouts, interim Principal Sue Sion said: “We’re certainly not going to encourage it. It’s a loss of class time…. If anything, we’ll be discouraging them.”
In Sebastopol, 60 to 70 Analy High School students marched down Main Street holding signs opposing war. At Petaluma High, 50 to 60 students left classes early in protest and were joined by “a great number” of other students at a lunchtime rally, said Sally Hill, assistant superintendent of Petaluma schools.
She said students violated the state Education Code when they walked out of class and might be penalized, but no decision had been made.
“The students have a right to speak out on issues. The principal is trying to arrive at a solution where they can do that and not disrupt classes,” Hill said.
The high school protests were coordinated by the Youth Coalition Against War, a group of about 20 young people that meets at the Peace and Justice Center in Santa Rosa.
“Students are concerned about what is going on in the world, and they realize that it affects their lives,” said Joe Crottogini, 19, an organizer.
The SSU protests kicked off four days of anti-war activities at the Rohnert Park campus.
Tonight, the Political Science Club is sponsoring a debate on “The War With Iraq and U.S. Foreign Policy,” and Project Censored is coordinating an Iraqi War Teach-in and Peace Festival on Friday and Saturday.
You can reach Staff Writer Carol Benfell at 521-5259 or firstname.lastname@example.org