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Student Protesters Converge on Public Square

Thursday, March 6, 2003 at 1:38 PM

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Wednesday was a day of protest against the looming war with Iraq for many students across the country. The National Youth and Student Peace Coalition, and Not In Our Name, or NION, organized the nationwide effort. The Northeast Ohio Anti-War Coalition, and the local NION chapter helped mobilize students in the Cleveland area. The early part of the day found some leafleting intersections and hanging banners at strategic public places. In the afternoon students converged on Public Square for an anti-war rally and march. 90.3's Bill rice reports.

(Wednesday’s) cold weather did little to chill the spirits of some 200 or so students raising their voices against a war many consider inevitable. Most were high schoolers. Far fewer came out from area colleges and universities. And while the rally was held in downtown Cleveland, there were few, if any, Cleveland school kids present. They came from the suburbs - places like Cleveland heights and Avon Lake. And most, like Halle Dietch - a junior at Shaker Heights High School - took a cue from organizers and ditched afternoon classes to come.

Halle Dietch: I missed English class. My teacher just said if I make up the work then it’s OK and my parents are going to excuse me for it.

Whether students will face any repercussions at school remains to be seen. A call earlier in the day to Shaker Heights High confirmed administrators did not condone class cutting. But just how students’ unauthorized absences would be dealt with was left unsaid - such incidents are dealt with on a case-by case basis, we were told.

Several protesters said they were there with their parents blessings; others’ folks were evidently less complicit in this show of youth initiative. One young woman - who wished to remain anonymous - confessed she was there on the sly.

Anonymous: My mom doesn’t know that I’m here actually so I can’t tell you my name because I’d get in a lot of trouble. But I want everyone to know that we need to be fighting the real war against world hunger and disease and everything else. So I came out here in the cold today to let everyone know that the youth of America does not support this war.

The tone of the rally harkened back to the days of Vietnam protests. With eyes closed older adults might have envisioned Abby Hoffman or Jerry Rubin sounding off against the establishment. Passions flared, and profanity flowed.

Protester 1 (addressing crowd): In 1991 the same (expletive) who president today’s Daddy was president… They lied to us then, they’re lying to us now!

Protester 2(addressing crowd): The only way to change this is with a (expletive) revolution!

Unlike in the old days, there was little threat of violence or lawbreaking - although organizers conceded they didn’t acquire a permit for the gathering, and there was some talk of civil disobedience. Law enforcement personnel, while present, stayed out of the way, remaining in their cars and looking for the most part unconcerned. Nearly a dozen police cars kept pace - lights flashing but otherwise non-confrontational - as the students concluded their speechmaking and marched through the city streets.

Turnout to the rally was a small fraction of the number that attended a Support Our Troops rally on the banks of the Cuyahoga River a few days earlier. But the students seem genuine in their concern over the Iraq situation, and though most aren’t yet of voting age, they feel they have a stake.

Halle Dietch: The youth of America really does matter because when we get to be adults, if we’re in this war and it gets us into a big mess we’re the ones who’ll have to deal with it and live with it.

In Cleveland, Bill Rice, 90.3.

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