When asked why students are protesting the war on Iraq, Jessica Marshall of the Young Communist League (YCL) and National Youth and Student Peace Coalition, said it’s because politicians are “not sending the sons and daughters of rich people over to Iraq. They’re sending that kid from down the street, the one who was trying to get an education.”

Youth and student peace organizations are trying to sort out the complex issues of how to oppose the war in the current atmosphere. They say they oppose the war in part because it’s fought predominantly by working-class youth and youth of color, many of whom are enticed by military recruiters offering money for college and a way out of poverty.

Karim Lopez, an organizer for New York-based Up Town Peace and Justice (UTPJ), said the “poverty draft is the economic pressure that forces young people of color to join the army.”

“We have to recognize that this war is one front of a broader, larger effort to impose U.S. economic domination over the world,” said Lopez. “The only way out of this conflict is to continue to make the link between the war abroad and war at home, to connect the issues, to mobilize.”

Portia Pedro, director of organizing for the United States Student Association (USSA), added, “Working-class young people are the majority of the ones doing the fighting.”

USSA, the oldest and largest student organization in the country, with affiliates on hundreds of campuses, sees a direct link between the war abroad and the tuition hikes at home. “When money goes to one place, it has to be taken from another,” said Pedro. “This war isn’t about democracy, it’s about money.”

Nationally, tuition is rising, class sizes are increasing, financial aid is being cut and there are fewer and fewer jobs for youth at living wages. Erica Smiley, national coordinator of the Black Radical Congress (BRC) Youth Division, said, “We’re not only being asked to sacrifice our lives. We’re being asked to sacrifice our education and our jobs.”

In the past few months hundreds of thousands of youth have participated in national and local anti-war protests.

One of the most effective actions, organized entirely by youth and students, was the March 5 “Books Not Bombs” student strike.

One of the nearly 400 participating campuses was Stanford University, where close to 1,000 students went on strike. Clara Webb, a senior at Stanford and a member of the Stanford Committee for Peace and Justice (SCPJ), said, “Federal money, financial aid, after school programs and health services are all being cut out of state budgets so that Bush can pay for his war.”

The author can be reached at tonypec@pww.org