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Thousands of Students Join Antiwar Rallies

Coordinated peace protests ripple across the country. Police arrest 19 people at a demonstration in downtown L.A.

March 06, 2003|Erika Hayasaki, Steve Hymon and Rebecca Trounson | Times Staff Writers

Thousands of high school and college students across California and the nation walked out of classes Wednesday to protest a possible war with Iraq, joining religious figures and others in coordinated peace rallies, teach-ins and strikes.

The demonstrations, which drew as many as 800 students to a central plaza at UCLA and about 250 people to the steps of the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles, were mostly peaceful, police said.

But 19 people, including five members of the clergy, were arrested for failure to disperse after they blocked a busy downtown intersection during rush hour, police said.

Five students from Canoga Park High School also were arrested on suspicion of looting a mini-mart after they broke off from an antiwar march near the school, authorities said.

Elsewhere, students protested in a variety of ways, dancing to hip-hop music, engaging in poetry slams, listening to speakers and holding marches on campuses stretching from Beverly Hills High School to UC Berkeley and beyond.

At Stanford University, dozens of professors implicitly endorsed the rallies, canceling classes or telling students there would be no penalties for absences.

"We're trying to save our country and planet from being ruined by the short-sighted policies of the Bush administration," said Amanda Crater, a UC Berkeley junior who walked out of a dance class to join the campus protest, which drew several hundred to Sather Gate.

"We're really trying to slow down and, with luck, stop this drive toward war."

At UCLA, hundreds of students walked out of classes at 11:15 a.m., converging near the student union at the Westwood campus for a rally that featured music, bongo drums and chants of "Drop Bush, not bombs."

Los Angeles Unified School District officials said 2,500 to 3,000 students took part in walkouts or rallies at 15 high schools and at least one middle school.

Although most were peaceful, a few adult protesters showed up at a rally at San Fernando High School and threw rocks after yelling at students to join the protest. No one was hurt, according to school district police spokesman P.J. Webb.

In Orange County, about 50 students holding hand-painted signs and wearing black armbands marked with white peace signs held a rally at Chapman College's Argyros Forum.

"We want to send the message that a war in Iraq would only create more problems in the world," said Troy Pickard, one of the rally's organizers. The senior peace studies major said he supported continuing weapons inspections and international diplomatic pressure on the Iraqi regime.

Many students said they were concerned the war will take money away from education.

The majority of those protesting Wednesday were students taking part in "Books Not Bombs" activities coordinated by the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition, an organization of 15 student groups that came together after the attacks of Sept. 11.

Organizers said tens of thousands of students at more than 300 colleges and high schools nationwide had pledged to join the rallies, but attendance was lower than expected at some campuses.

In some cases, small counter-demonstrations were held by groups supporting the Bush administration's policies.

Activists said they hoped the protests were a sign of an emerging antiwar movement for a new generation of students, noting that the scenes Wednesday were evocative of 1960s-style peace demonstrations.

UCLA education professor Robert A. Rhoads, the author of two books on student activism, pointed out an important difference, however: The day's protests came "as the war is still being organized, not after the fact."

"I believe this shows that activism is quite alive on U.S. campuses," Rhoads said.

One of the day's first events did not involve students but rabbis, priests and others marking Ash Wednesday by blocking the intersection of Los Angeles and Temple streets near the federal courthouse downtown for nearly an hour. Clergy representing nearly a dozen faiths took part, including Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Muslims.

"Every day, there is more information that confirms my initial instincts that this war is reckless," said the Rev. Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena, who was among those arrested for blocking the streets.

Bacon said later it was the first time he had been arrested for an act of civil disobedience.

"I believe that people of peacemaking now must cross a line that they have not crossed heretofore to embody their beliefs about how insane, how reckless, how inexcusable these war plans are," Bacon said.

Rabbi Steven Jacobs, of Temple Kol Tikvah of Woodland Hills, gave a fiery speech to the crowd of about 250 before some of the protesters spilled into the streets.

"This is a world that has turned against America, and I blame George Bush," he said.

Later, Jacobs explained that views on the war are mixed among those in his congregation, with many fearing that protests against the war will ultimately hurt Israel.

"They may disagree with me, but they also respect my views," he said.


Times staff writers Larry Stammer, Karima Haynes, Sandra Murillo, Jia-Rui Chong and Denise Bonilla and correspondent Jessica Scully contributed to this report.

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