US President George Bush will add Sydney to the long list of cities that have greeted him with mass demonstrations demanding an end to the war on Iraq. PM John Howard will remember APEC as the summit that failed to bolster his domestic support.
The socialist youth organisation Resistance was involved in organising and building the protest over the past year. At our national conference in July, we decided to initiate a national student walkout against the war on September 5 in the lead-up to APEC, to mobilise young people and to help broaden and reinspire the anti-war movement.
More than 1500 young people walked out of class to challenge Bush and Howard's agenda.
Many people concerned about the threats of repression at the anti-Bush protests were inspired by and gained confidence from the hundreds of high school students who took to the streets in the face of a massive police scare campaign — which included cops and truant officers at bus stops and train stations, principals threatening students that they would be arrested for attending the rally, teachers locking the gates, and parents threatening their children with eviction if they walked out — not to mention the corporate media's campaign against the walkout.
In Sydney, Simon Cunich reports that around 400 people, including students from a wide range of schools across the city, protested despite a concerted campaign of intimidation by police.
Atsuko Nagami reports from Melbourne that by 1pm, there were already well over 100 people gathered at Flinders Street Station for the 1.30pm rally, which swelled to 600 people. Protesters signed banners and wrote messages to Bush in chalk on the steps of the station.
Students from more than 30 different high schools — some as far as Upwey, Ivanhoe, Geelong and Ballarat — participated in the rally. A group of teachers also joined the protest.
Many students spoke on the open mic about the threats of suspension they faced for attending the strike, while others got permission and were encouraged by their parents to attend.
Many students brought their own placards and musical instruments for the energetic march, and despite a sizeable police presence the action was completely peaceful.
Tim Dobson reports that despite driving rain and unprecedented intimidation from police and principals in Wollongong, more than 300 brave students rallied in the mall.
Before the rally, Sydney riot police prowled around the outskirts and WIN News reported that evening that police were brought in from as far as Batemans Bay to "oversee the demonstration".
Local officers systematically worked the crowd, taking down students' identification details "for their own safety". When we asked them to "try not to intimidate students please", the officers became quite irate.
During raucous chanting, Resistance activist Paola Harvey convinced the dispersed crowd to come out from under cover and stand together in the light rain. She also invited the rally to welcome ASIO personnel, who were sitting comfortably on a cafe balcony above the action taking photos. The "secret agents" looked rather embarrassed when hundreds of camera phones snapped pictures of them.
The Socialist Alliance election candidate for Cunningham, Jess Moore, addressed the rally, exposing the crimes of Bush and Howard and outlining the desperate need for a political alternative for young people. Her call for the voting age to be lowered was met with spontaneous chanting in support.
Resistance activist and University of Wollongong global solidarity officer Jay Fletcher gave a rousing speech about students defending their right to take political action, before students took over the streets of Wollongong, chanting loudly and passionately. Many students voiced their opposition to war and environmental destruction on the open mic; one brave young man spoke on the difficulties of being young and openly gay.
In Perth, the walkout drew up to 200 people, mostly high school students, according to Trent Hawkins. In addition to students addressing the rally, a "People vs. George Bush trial" was staged. Several TV and radio stations covered the protest.
In Brisbane, Ewan Saunders reports that 300 students marched through the city and were met with applause from passing pedestrians. More than 16 schools were represented at the protest, with the biggest contingents from Brisbane State High School, Cavendish Road State High School and Kelvin Grove State College.
One student read out an anti-Bush poem that she had written to the up-beat crowd. The open mic included students beat boxing, the Cavendish High contingent leading a "no racism, no war" chant, local Brisbane hip-hop band Guerrilla Movement and the Gold Coast act the Molotov.
Alice Jenkins, a year-ten Resistance member from Ferny Grove State High, encouraged the rally participants to continue organising against the war on their high schools.
In Canberra, Farida Iqbal reports that 30 protesters lay down "dead" with headstones behind them, to mourn the many deaths in Iraq and all over the world that the Bush regime is responsible for.
Resistance activist Ana Hanson told the crowd: "More than 650,000 people have been killed as a result of the profit-driven occupation of Iraq. George Bush and the policies of the US government are the forces driving war, poverty and climate change all over the world."
In Adelaide, 80 students protested and in Hobart, 40 students also held a "die-in".
It was young people who were among the first to protest the racist policies of former MP Pauline Hanson with high school walkouts against racism in 1998. In 2003, tens of thousands of students walked out of class to oppose the invasion of Iraq in the "Books Not Bombs" student strikes. Last year, high school students marched again in a national day of student action in response to Howard's attacks on workers' rights.
We have proven in practice that when we stand up and take action together — at our universities, high schools, TAFEs, workplaces and in the streets — we can make a difference.
In the face of an enormous "security" campaign aimed at intimidating and deterring people from protesting at APEC, up to 15,000 people joined the "Stop Bush — make Howard history" protest on September 8. The rally was a huge victory for the movement. It was a mass act of defiance and a demonstration of our collective strength on the streets that Howard and Bush can only pretend to ignore.
The spirit of the rally reflected a determination to stop the war, for real action on climate change, and to defend workers' rights regardless of who wins the federal election. Resistance will be continuing to organise around these issues and to fight for a better world. To contact us, visit <http://www.resistance.org.au>.