On Wednesday, March 5, 2003, students at thousands of schools across the United States walked out in protest of the American government's priorities. President George W. Bush had placed over 250,000 troops in the Middle East prepared to start a war against Iraq. Meanwhile, school districts across the nation made plans to lay off teachers and cut programs for the next year because funding for education kept dwindling. Most of all, the students felt betrayed and ignored by the policy that war — even an unpopular conflict of questionable just cause — took precedence over their education.
The mass protests called for a reallocation of funds from the military to the education system. Thus the rallying cry: Books Not Bombs! Organizers at the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition estimated 400-500 high school and college campuses participated, with total numbers from 30,000-50,000 youth. In many cases, teachers and administration threatened protesters with truancy charges and suspension. Obviously, many thousands showed that making the statement outweighed any punishment for their actions of civil disobedience.
Some of the frustration of students stems from disenfranchisement. In a country supposedly based on self-determination and democracy, ageist principles prevail in the voting requirements. Opponents of abolishing the age limit claim young people do not have enough experience and knowledge to vote in elections. Of course, the common voter probably has less knowledge of the candidates than most children who attend public school. Denied entrance to the voting booths, students chose to use their voices where they could.
Several schools in Madison, Wisconsin combined in one of the largest demonstrations. Gathering beneath a statue of Abraham Lincoln on Bascom Hill, several thousand people — students ranging from middle school through high school and college age along with many other concerned citizens estimated at up to 6,000 total — raised questions on the just nature of preemptive strike, the cost of possible war in lives and dollars, and what social institutions including their own educations suffered because money got spent on bombs instead. After several speeches from organizers — including a college student forced to drop out when called to active duty and a professor from Iraq — the crowd took to the streets and marched up to the capitol steps and continued into the afternoon demanding attention from officials working inside.
Similar scenes played out throughout the nation, indeed, across the globe.
The simple message is:
The United States should not go to war with Iraq.
The opportunity cost of this war is our next generation.
Before it's too late, choose books not bombs.