Revolution#109, November 18, 2007
West Chicago Suburb:
The Uproar Over the Antiwar Sit-in at Morton West High School
On Thursday, November 1, students at Morton West High School in Berwyn, Illinois protested the Iraq war and the presence of U.S. military recruiters on campus. Berwyn is a mainly lower middle class and proletarian city just west of Chicago. 80% of students at Morton West are Latino.
The students sat in at the cafeteria, near where on most days, recruiters are given space to lure students into the U.S. military. The students agreed to move their protest to another location on the campus after school officials asked them to. But at the end of the day, over 30 student protesters were given notices of 5- to 10-day suspensions. Even more outrageously, the school sent out notices to parents accusing the students of “mob activity”—and the school board is threatening to expel around two dozen students.
School officials also have been calling in students who participated in the protest to talk about their cases and then reportedly asking—practically demanding—that they snitch on the protest leaders.
Over 7,300 people so far have signed an online petition written by the Columbia College Chicago Students for a Democratic Society (“In Defense of the Morton West Antiwar Students,” at petitiononline.com/mortonw/petition.html). The students’ action—and the school’s retaliation—has been widely covered by the Associated Press, BBC, the New York Times and many other media and Internet blogs. A November 8 editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times said in part: “It’s too easy today for kids to be apathetic and self-centered, so we applaud those who express any interest in our government’s foreign policy. That is why we think the reported five- and 10-day suspensions and possible expulsions of up to 25 students at Morton West High School are extreme punishment for students who staged a sit-in protest… The students are certainly getting a lesson about the personal costs of civil disobedience. First they were protesting the war in Iraq—a position we happen to support—and then other students protested their suspensions.”
Over 150 people packed a raucous and emotional school board meeting on November 7. For over two and a half hours, students, parents, and others took their allotted three minutes on the mike to support the protesters and condemn the actions of school officials as well as the war and military recruiters. The father of one of the students facing expulsion told the school board, “The soldiers [in Iraq] have been there too long, and they need to be replaced, and they will be replaced with the kids of today. And these kids have the right to stand up and voice their opinions.”
Revolution talked to two of the Morton West protesters—Matt, a junior, and David, a freshman, at the school board meeting.
Revolution: Why did you decide to protest that day?
Matt: We chose November 1 because it was All Saints Day and we thought it would be a good day to protest for peace. The war has been going on for five years now, and you know, we just wanted to do something about it. Me and others, we felt that there’s not enough being done to raise awareness about the war, and we just wanted to show people that peace is possible.
David: The students don’t realize that this war is affecting the U.S.A. and how it’s changed, how life has changed... We wanted to show them that we shouldn’t even be in this war right now… We shouldn’t invade their country like we are right now.
Revolution: Have you been active against the war before this?
Matt: Actually, this is probably my first. I’ve spoken out against the war many times and I’ve said other things but…this was my first basically real big protest. Just a week before that there was a protest in Chicago and in the Capital… I saw that, and it was an idea that came to us, so we just felt compelled to do it and that was it.
Revolution: Was the protest a challenge to other people?
Matt: I don’t want to pass judgment on anyone else, really. But if people have an opinion about something that they strongly believe in, like the war, they should voice it.
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