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How activists built the struggle
Seattle showdown

March 4, 2005 | Page 9

AFTER THE day of protests against George Bush's inauguration on January 20, one photo in particular made the rounds on the Internet. It showed chanting students at Seattle Central Community College (SCCC) surrounding a nervous-looking recruiter--who was soon to be ushered off campus by security.

The photo symbolized the rise of the new struggle against military recruiters. JORGE TORRES and DARRIN HOOP describe how activists took the first steps in building the fight in Seattle.

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MANY ACCOUNTS of the January 20 protest describe it as a spontaneous action. While some parts of the confrontation that sent the military recruiters packing weren't planned, the walkout at SCCC was well organized and planned out in advance.

The group that organized the protest, Students Against War (SAW), got its start in mid-November--it was launched by three members of the International Socialist Organization. Over the next month, SAW was built up through weekly tabling, postering and in-class announcements.

On two different occasions during this period, a handful of SAW members set up tables to counter the military recruiters. We were able to force them to leave before their scheduled time on both occasions.

The second time, the Air National Guard called security to complain about us harassing him. When security called Student Leadership (SL), a crowd of some 15 students started to form around us. Several non-SAW students defended us, saying students were trying to study and we shouldn't be bothered by the military trying to recruit us. SL backed down, and the recruiter left shortly afterward.

In mid-December, students began talking about a walkout on Bush's Inauguration Day. It wasn't until January 4 that SAW voted to organize both a teach-in on January 19 and a walkout the next day.

We discussed at this meeting whether SAW--which had 10 active members at this time--could successfully pull off both events. There were two main arguments that led to a unanimous 10-0 vote to do both. The first was that, given our prior experiences kicking the recruiters off campus, we knew that there was a high level of anger toward Bush and military recruiters at SCCC. The second was to divide up organizational responsibilities so that every SAW member was actively building for the events.

We then all agreed that a small action of 30 to 50 people would be better than no action at all--and an important step toward breaking through the pessimism brought on by Bush's reelection.

The January 19 teach-in was a success, with 50 people attending. Speakers took up a range of issues, from the occupations of Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq, to the attacks on civil liberties at home, to the questions facing the antiwar movement. Also on the 19th, SAW members discussed and voted to peacefully confront recruiters the next day.

The walkout began at 12:30 p.m. with 50 students. We marched through the SCCC building. By the end of the march, there were some 300 students filling the hallway around the recruiters' table.

The hapless recruiters tried to act as if the crowd wasn't bothering them and continued to pass out their literature. Students ripped it up in their faces and threw it up in the air like confetti. Others tore off their tablecloth and pounded on the table. After 15 minutes, the recruiters were escorted off campus. The crowd followed behind, chanting "Don't come back!" and "You should be ashamed!"

Outside, more than 1,000 students were rallying from more than 10 different area high schools and colleges. This was the result of a month's worth of planning by many groups to coordinate these citywide walkouts. At the rally, we held an impromptu meeting to exchange phone numbers and e-mails to coordinate future actions. After 45 minutes, we marched downtown and met up with another 1,000 people who had gathered at a Not In Our Name protest.

A few days later, the SCCC administration threatened to suspend our student group status for the rest of the quarter if we didn't apologize to the recruiters. The SCCC president attended a SAW meeting to personally request our apology. But we voted to make no apologies. Instead, SAW, with the help of other groups, planned to hold a press conference for two days later.

Once the school administration got word of this, they promised to rescind the threats if we promised to not go public. We made plans to hold a press conference anyway, and the administration backed down completely.

We feel that the lesson of our experience is that even a small group of students can organize to get recruiters off campus. It's important to stand up to any attempt by school administrators to intimidate us--and to build solidarity with community groups, professors and other students. We have to be confident and open about our opposition to the war that has led to the deaths of more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians and more than 1,400 U.S. troops.

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