Students to demand Books not bombs

The Bush administration has cut funds for education drastically in the past three years, resulting in school closures, tuition hikes, overcrowded classrooms, and thousands of campus layoffs.

On Thursday, March 4, thousands of students on hundreds of campuses around the country are expected to participate in the second annual “Books Not Bombs” student strike for education, civil liberties, peace and an end to military recruitment on campuses.

The day of action, initiated by the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition (NYSPC), will consist of teach-ins, rallies, protests, voter registration drives and other events. Last year, in the first such event, thousands of youth and students on 450 high school and college campuses participated.

“Students are being creative about how they connect Bush’s war policy with the underfunding of education and other youth needs,” said Keren Wheeler of the Young Communist League (YCL), a NYSPC coalition member.

“The Bush domestic agenda is an attack on youth, workers, women, and people of color,” Wheeler said. “The military budget grows, while the education budget shrinks. Many youth are forced into the military due to a lack of other options.”

Garrett Wright, an organizer for Student Peace Action Network, another NYSPC member, also connected the war to the lack of funds for education. “While over $156 billion has been spent on the war abroad, campuses all across the nation have had to jack up tuition rates, pricing many students out of an education,” he said.

“Most of the men and women sent to Iraq are young people. Theirs are the lives being lost,” Wright said. “On March 4, we will draw attention to the cause and consequences of war and imperialism.”

Wheeler characterized the war in Iraq as a “drive to empire” that holds no promise for the young generation. “We can’t allow youth, poor youth, youth of color, to be used as cannon fodder.”

Joseph Truong, an NYSPC spokesperson, said, “The military depends on young people. They depend on the fact that very few youth have other options.”

Truong emphasized the international character of the day of action. “‘Books Not Bombs,’” he said, “recognizes the importance of our struggle in solidarity with youth and students throughout the world.”

The war budget also affects a whole range of social services that young people rely on. “After-school programs, career counseling, and students’ access to education have all been affected,” Wright said. “Our civil liberties are under assault. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, many high school and college campuses are forced to provide student information to military recruiters.”

While last year’s “Books Not Bombs” student strike was part of a larger effort to stop the war, this year it is seen as a starting point in efforts to defeat Bush in November and pave the way for a youth counter-agenda.

“Youth can speak with one voice, united and unique,” Wheeler said, “for peace, education, civil liberties, and military-free campuses.”

“We have to remind people,” Wright said, “of the power of youth and students.”

The author can be reached at tonypec@pww.org.