BY LEIGH HUGHES
The official beginning of the US-led war on Iraq was the catalyst for the abandonment of classrooms and the closure of several schools on March 20, as hundreds of students walked out in protest. In the following days, not only did of thousands of students across Australia join city-wide emergency rallies, but many student protests were held.
The largest student walkout was in Adelaide on March 20, when entire schools, including Paralowie High School and Salisbury College, were emptied as students responded to the message "when the bombs drop, school stops", broadcast on radio that morning.
While several spontaneous protests occurred throughout Adelaide's suburbs, 200 students from at least seven high schools gathered to protest at the Books Not Bombs-organised protest at Parliament House.
Copies of speeches by Prime Minister John Howard and US President George Bush were burnt while motorists were urged to "honk for peace", before Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Commission chairperson Geoff Clark asked to speak, praising the protesters.
In Wollongong, around 250 students rallied at Lowden Square after walking out of class on March 20, including around 50 university students who came from a 200-strong rally at Wollongong University.
"Many more students had walked out", Resistance activist Grant Coleman explained to Green Left Weekly, "but they were either avoiding the police, who were picking up 'truants', or just walking around trying to figure out where Lowden Square was."
The walkout was organised by Books Not Bombs at three days notice, and the war began while the protest was taking place.
"When it was time to march, the cops were nowhere in sight, so we just started marching anyway", Coleman explained. "After some nifty traffic direction, we started a long, spirited snake march through the streets. When the cops finally caught up with us, there were detective cops, cops in cars, walking cops and cops in big police rescue trucks!"
Coleman explained that the students marched past the stage in the mall and onto grass, where they symbolically "died" before adding red dye to the Wollongong fountain to symbolise the rivers of Baghdad running with blood.
After a march to state parliament offices, supplemented by cries of "Shame, Bob [Carr], Shame", they were stopped by somewhat exhausted police and held an hour-long speak-out to finish off.
On March 21, around 200 students joined a protest in Geelong, after walking out of school in pouring rain. "While we are bombarded by rain, our brothers and sisters in Iraq are being bombarded by bombs", student Tim Doughney told the crowd.
Even before the war had begun, on March 18, 500 staff and students gathered at the University of NSW to express their outrage over Howard's early morning decision to commit Australian troops to the US-led war on Iraq. The protest was supported by the UNSW branch of the NTEU, Students Against War, Books Not Bombs and several departments of the UNSW Student Guild. It was chaired by Susan Price, a branch committee member of the UNSW NTEU. Students also protested on that day at the University of Western Australia.
Students, and young people, have been prominent at many of the emergency protests. In Brisbane, a lively contingent from Griffith University's Nathan campus filled a bus to attend the March 20 protest. After the main rally dispersed, they joined with many other young people in a second, loud and spirited, march around the city, ending in a two-hour sit-down at an intersection.
The spontaneous political speeches, chanting and singing continued while the Queensland police minister held a media conference nearby to announce his decision not to move the protesters by force.
In Sydney, a 1000-strong contingent marched to join the March 22 protest from Sydney University, picking up students and staff from the University of Technology, Sydney, on the way. A March 20 protest in Cairns and a March 21 protest in Mackay were addressed by local students, calling for a strike to be organised.
In Newcastle on March 20, the emergency anti-war protest was addressed by father of David Arkless, an anti-war student activist from Merewether High who was killed in a climbing accident just a few days before the protest.
High school students have copped some flak for protesting. According to anti-war activist Dave Riley, at Nudgee College, an expensive and upmarket school in Brisbane, the staff have received a memo from the school's Catholic order, saying that while it supports "peace", no teacher is to discuss the war with students!
In Adelaide, many students were suspended for walking out of class, including 50 at Salisbury College. "They suspended the people who were loudest in protesting the war", said Ben Daniels, a student at the school. Grant Brindal, president of the South Australian Association for Media Education said that the walkout resulted in disruption to classes and the "worst teaching day in thirty years".
From Green Left Weekly, March 26, 2003.
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