Revolution #117, January 27, 2008

Anti-Torture Actions at S.F. Leadership High

“It’s on us to change things”

In preparation for the January 11 demonstration to oppose the Bush regime’s policy of torture and to demand the shutdown of Guantánamo, high school students in the Bay Area organized to wear orange and attend the march in San Francisco.

They brought Larry Everest, author of Oil, Power and Empire and writer for Revolution, to Leadership High School (LHS), a largely proletarian charter school in San Francisco, to speak to the issue of torture, Guantánamo Bay, and the urgent need for political action. We’ve been distributing the paper and having discussions at the school over all kinds of issues from torture and the Jena 6 to the need for revolution and communism, struggling to be fiercely scientific in all we do. Four classes signed on to the event.

For some of the students this was the first time hearing about the Guantánamo Bay prison camp, torture and the war crimes that the Bush administration is guilty of. Larry Everest started out the presentation with a simple question: “Do you think American lives are more valuable than the lives of people around the world?” He called for a few volunteers. One by one the volunteers were “detained” and put in jumpsuits with hoods over their heads. They had to hold their hands and feet together—like they were shackled. Then Larry talked about what it would be like to be held with your feet shackled to the wall so you couldn’t sleep, or with loud music being played, or being beaten and abused by guards. Then Larry had one of the “detainees” lie on a table and describe what it was like to be waterboarded.

The students took off their hoods and described how they felt. One student said she felt like shit. One needed a hug from a friend. The last student said, “I feel sorry for those people. And part of that is because I didn’t know about it… which makes me a little bit guilty because of that. And I wish I could do something about it.” We told them about wearing orange, and the protest on January 11, and how it’s on us to change things—we can’t wait for the government to do it, since they’re the ones who started all this.

Towards the end of the presentation people talked about ideas they had about taking on torture. Almost all the students in the room got orange ribbons and armbands and copies of Revolution.

Following this presentation, debate raged at the school. One teacher asked, “What if there were 100 people in Guantánamo and 98 of them were guilty, would it make it alright to torture the two innocent as well?” A student responded with information from an ACLU fact sheet on Guantánamo, pointing out that out of the over 700 prisoners, none have been put on trial.

On January 11, 50 out of the 200 students attending LHS wore orange—orange sweatshirts, orange shoes, orange ribbons, etc. As more students became involved, the administration became more repressive. Some students were told that they had to remove their orange bandanas or the bandanas would be taken away. They were told that they look like “gangsters.” Students refused to remove their orange, and instead more and more people started wearing orange. The back page poster from Revolution—saying “Stop Torture” and calling on people to wear orange and demonstrate on January 11—was posted on lockers all around the school. After school, a number of students from LHS joined about 200 anti-torture demonstrators marching down Market Street.

The following week, a letter from the principal was sent out to the families of students who attended the presentation, stating: “We know that the information presented was not balanced with alternative view points. Additionally, the speaker used the opportunity to voice extreme personal views on the nation’s political climate and administration…” Students were outraged by the letter, and at the school administration for trying to justify torture.One student responded, “There is no good side to torture. It is wrong no matter how you look at it.”

A letter from a World Can’t Wait organizer to the teachers stated: “Debate and argumentation are good ways of getting at the truth. But ultimately what we are after is not simply ‘balance,’ but truth… Larry described what it would be like to be taken away from your family by people who don’t speak your language, who don’t allow you a lawyer, who don’t tell you what you’re being charged with, who torture you, etc. This is not propaganda. This is reality… George Bush doesn’t even deny that this is happening... what he does is he tries to justify it and legalize it. Before this presentation very few…knew that our government was practicing torture…”

Students are working on a petition that upholds the message of the presentation: that torture is unjust and immoral, that Guantánamo must be shut down and the Bush regime must be driven out because of these crimes. And students are organizing to wear orange and displaying it everywhere.

These students must be supported, and the school cannot be allowed to isolate these youth in an attempt to demoralize them in the context of building for World Can’t Wait’s call for mass resistance on January 31.

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