Students read-in for books not bombs

Students from Philadelphia high schools and colleges weren’t about to let studying for finals get in the way of their participation in the National Youth and Students Peace Committee (NYSPC) May 6 “Books Not Bombs” Day of Action.

“Because it’s finals week, we came up with the idea of having a ‘read-in’ at [Senator Rick] Santorum’s office, ” said Harris Kornstein, a Swarthmore freshman. “We want to keep anti-war activism going, and ‘books not bombs’ bridges protests about tuition hikes with protests about war.”

The students, members of Youth PAWR (Philadelphia Area War Resistance), a coalition of college and high school student groups, brought hundreds of “I will vote for books not bombs” pledge cards collected from their classmates.

Ben Waxman, a senior at Springfield High School, took the 20-minute train ride on Philadelphia’s SEPTA train to bring the pledge cards from his school. “A lot of high school people became engaged in the anti-Iraq war movement,” Waxman said. “We’re trying to get people to register to vote by showing the connection with the severe funding crisis for public high schools.” Citing cuts in after-school programs, music, school newspapers, teachers and even textbooks, Waxman noted that some schools are still using decades-old books.

Ivan Booth, who will be a junior at Swarthmore next year, told the World the Philadelphia area youth activists have been discussing what to do this summer. “It was amazing. After the war, all these different groups at the same time all said ‘Let’s do voter registration.’”

Booth said this was a kick-off event for a whole voter registration and education campaign, involving many campus organizations and activists. “This summer we will be flyering at festivals and concerts [with] educational things about war, and doing voter registration at fairs,” Booth said.

The students sat several hours on the sidewalk in front of Santorum’s office under their big “books not bombs” banner, taking an occasional break from their studying to register a new voter or get an additional pledge card signed.

At 4:30 p.m., the protest moved inside the government building, but the students found Santorum’s office mysteriously closed. They weren’t surprised. “Santorum embodies all that’s wrong with the U.S. government,” Lincoln Ellis, a University of Pennsylvania senior said. Undaunted, they dug up a roll of tape and one by one posted the hundreds of pledge cards to the Senator’s door.

Same day, same confident enthusiasm, but hundreds of miles south, in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, Decatur High School junior Leah Fishbein delivered 60 “books not bombs” pledge cards to the office of Congresswoman Denise Majette (D–Ga.). Fishbein is part of a new student organization called SWEAPS – Students Working for an Educated and Accountable Peaceful Society. Speaking of her experience in collecting pledge cards from her classmates, she said, “It went really well. The goal was to educate teenagers on domestic and foreign policy. A lot of people I spent time talking to, I felt maybe I changed their minds. It was pretty neat.”

The author can be reached at rwood@pww.org