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'Every high school an anti-war high school'

'Every high school an anti-war high school'

Lauren Carol Harris, Sydney

Green Left Weekly

The September 5 student strike against US President George Bush’s visit, initiated by Resistance, has triggered a wave of anti-war activism on high schools across Sydney. Students from more than 20 high schools, including Mosman High, Pennant Hills High and North Sydney Girls High, have pledged to walk out of classes to protest Australia’s involvement in the Iraq war, to call for genuine action against climate change and to defend the right to protest.

Students from North Sydney Girls High have organised a contingent from their school to attend the student strike. Year 9 student Jaya Keany said that she started organising “a group of people together from our school to go on strike” last week, because she agrees “with the demands of the strike, like stopping the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and doing something about climate change”. For her, the impetus to protest was heightened by the climate of intimidation that has been created by the corporate media, police and NSW Labor government: “I’m also angry about the fear campaign, and the possible infringement of our right to protest. We’re meant to live in a democracy.”

Jaya is organising students to meet at a nearby park before travelling together to the main student convergence at 1pm at Belmore Park. Intimidation by the school principal hasn’t stifled the students’ plans. “We’ve made some flyers, and we’re handing them out at school. We’ve just been wandering around at lunch and trying to talk to people, because we’re not allowed to have any formal meetings. We’ve been talking to people on the bus and outside of classes, and telling people to go to the walkout website.”

Their idea is to incorporate activism into normal school life and promote a climate of political discussion by “asking other students what they think about APEC and what its doing to Sydney in terms of inhibiting our right to protest. Also, we’re going to paint a banner [to lead our contingent at the strike]. We figure that even if we can’t hold a formal meeting, we can paint the banner in playground and people will group around and start discussing the issues.”

So far, the response from students to the September 5 strike so far has been “pretty positive”. “Some students have raised some issues about the war, but we haven’t had much opposition. Most students have either said that they want to voice their disagreement to the war on Iraq and to Bush and they’ll be attending the strike, or that they want to come and are supportive of the cause, but their parents won’t let them come.”

Jaya thinks that, even though “some people are quite scared about the police, the water cannon and what could go wrong, and are unsure about what [from media reports] is true and what is fearmongering”, there will be a strong turnout from her school to the walkout and that there is potential for more ongoing political activity on her school after September 5. “I think it would be good if we could continue organising on our school after the strike. I don’t know how we’ll get around the administration, but I’ll try, because the response of students has been so good.”

Resistance member and strike organiser Simon Cunich said that this example of self-organisation puts to rest the idea that young people are being “coerced” into activism. “Young people are among the most concerned about the ongoing occupation of Iraq and the lack of action to stop global warming. A lot of untapped progressive sentiment exists — we want to turn this sentiment into activity. Every high school should be an anti-war high school, every university, an anti-war campus.” He emphasised that political activity will continue on schools after September 5. “The student strike has helped build a network of high school activists and build huge youth contingents in the upcoming ‘Walk against Warming’ demonstrations.”

If you are interested in bringing the anti-war movement onto your school, contact your nearest Resistance Centre for a high school activism kit (see addresses on page 2). For more information about the student strike visit http://walkout2stopbush.org.au or http://resistance.org.au.]

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