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Front Page > Issues > 2003 > March

Students take to streets over school and war

It was the ideal day to find the typical high school student ditching school to sit down in front of the sepulchral television with the latest playstation game perpetuating violence allegedly advocated by folks like Eminem and Marilyn Manson. Simultaneously, they could support terrorism with their lunch money used to purchase an eighth of marijuana. After all, these kids are baby-sat by a media deciphering what shoes, drugs and slang are appropriate to obtain the desired normalcy crucial for survival through their bittersweet adolescence.

A district-wide walkout would negate the opinion that those under twenty conform to their apathetic societal standing. Over 250 students, concentrated but not limited to Lincoln, Franklin, MLC and not limited to Lincoln, Franklin, and Wilson High Schools, and the Multnomah Learning Center, congregated at Water-front Park around 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 6. The students intended a smaller turnout to keep their protest disciplined and manageable, hoping to convey the message that they are not going to be spectators as their education withers in front of them. Those who came also gathered from confusion over how their president can rationalize spending $200 billion dollars on a war with Iraq, while weeks are cut from their school year. Confused students wondered where the extra ten classmates would sit when the student-teacher ratio climbs from the already ridiculous 32-to-1 to 42-to-1 with continuing budget cuts. Concerns circulated: if spring sports are being cut now, what will happen to the art departments, let alone the sport departments in the upcoming years?

They marched through downtown chanting “Books, not Bombs” while our president moved our nation’s security status to “high” due to an alleged risk of being attacked by terrorists — necessitating the need to destroy a country that has yet to recover from the sanctioned impoverishment of the past decade. A student from Lincoln reiterated the need for G.W. to focus more on domestic issues: “I am more afraid of what this country is going to look like when only the rich, who can afford private education, are being educated. I’m wondering what that’s going to look like in 20 years. And I’m more afraid of that, than Saddam Hussein.”

Scoffed and scowled at by merchants they passed, the students marched into city hall. A large group occupied the council chamber and awaited answers about the future of education and about war from Mayor Vera Katz, who surprisingly came down to meet them. While many felt she avoided taking any responsibility for either, others considered carefully her suggestion of holding the legislature accountable for the condition of their schools.

The truth is that these students are more than the stereotypes created for them by our capitalistic society. Portland’s high school students are capable of reading beyond the lyrics from an Eminem song, or the rhetoric from the State of the Union Address by a man less coherent than the corporately owned media supporting him. Combined with their competence, is their ability to see the need for something to be done.

Whispers of beginning “Free School” were exchanged between students, but no clear organization was evident as of yet.

As one student put it during the transort of a mock coffin: “There’s no reason to abandon education just because our system is trying to destroy it. And I would encourage everyone to take their individual power and not rely on a system to educate you anymore.”

Lee Ware is a student at Portland Community College and an intern with The Portland Alliance.



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Last Updated: January 29, 2003