High school students stage antiwar protests

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(Host) As war with Iraq seems increasingly inevitable, opponents of U.S. led attacks have become more visible and vocal. From Essex to Brattleboro, Vermonters who disagree with Bush administration policy have taken to the streets to make themselves heard.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more:

(Keese) The early morning peace vigil outside Brattleboro Union High School has been going on for about two weeks. On the morning after President Bush’s ultimatum to Saddam Hussein, 30 students and a handful of faculty stand outside the school as the day begins.

The signs they carry say, “All life is sacred,”War is the enemy,” and “Support the troops, bring them home.” Senior Sander Macy, one of the protest’s organizers, is clear about how the president’s Monday night speech made him feel:

(Macy) “Sickened. Sad. Scared. It’s awful. I mean the way I see it, we’re just digging ourselves into a war and we’re going to kill a lot of people and it will just become a really sad circumstance.”

(Keese) Macy’s classmate Grace Nowakoski agrees:

(Nowakoski) “I’m really upset about it. I’m discouraged that Bush is just going along with his original plan despite all the diplomatic efforts that the rest of the world has been trying to encourage.”

(Keese) At the other end of the state, at a busy Essex Junction intersection, a similar scene is taking place. About 20 Essex High School students have skipped Tuesday morning classes to express their opposition to the coming war. Essex junior Ryon Frink is flashing the peace sign to indicate his dissent with the Bush administration. Frink says not all of his peers oppose the war:

(Frink) “There’s certainly some that roll their eyes, but I’d say a lot of people are open to new things. And for a lot of people, September 11 was the defining moment in their political lives. And that’s what they base a lot of their decisions on – students and adults. But they are open to seeing a different perspective on this war.”

(Keese) The student demonstrators in Brattleboro are even working with faculty to plan a forum to present both sides of the issue. But this morning, Macy and his classmates are talking about the walkout they are planning, once the bombing starts.

(Macy) “Kids will come to school and then 10 minutes after, kids who can will leave their classes and go outside. And then kids who want to participate but can’t miss class for one reason or another will come out during their free time.

(Keese) At the school day’s end the students will walk with their peace signs to Brattleboro’s downtown. The students won’t be alone. All over Vermont, opponents of war are making plans to voice their disapproval on the day that war breaks out. Kim Ead of the Burlington Peace and Justice Center has been coordinating her city’s response.

(Ead) “If the bombs start dropping in the evening, people will be meeting at noon the next day at the top of Church Street and at the Royal Theater up at UVM and the two groups meet.”

(Keese) If the fighting starts during the day, the groups will meet at 6:00 p.m. Activists say similar response plans are in the works for Bennington, Saint Johnsbury, Rutland and the Upper Valley.

The Brattleboro Peace and Justice Committee says it’s decided not to wait. Every afternoon this week they’ll be demonstrating at a busy downtown intersection. Tim Stevenson, a member of the Peace and Justice Group, is also on the staff at Brattleboro Union High School. He’s been working with the student antiwar group. Stevenson says he’ll join the students on their walk-out.

(Stevenson) “I think that we need to stop business as usual on that day to express our outrage over our government’s actions towards Iraq.”

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese in Brattleboro.

(Host) VPR’s Patti Daniels also contributed to this report.

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