October 24, 2002

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Students organize trip to join demonstration—
‘It’s our turn’ to speak up

YSHS students Matt Wallace and Ashlee Cooper

YSHS students Matt Wallace and Ashlee Cooper organized a trip for 94 students and local residents to join an anti-war demonstration in Washington, D.C.

On Friday, Oct. 25, 94 Yellow Springs High School students and local residents will board two charter buses bound for an anti-war rally in Washington, D.C. What makes this trip different is that it was organized by two YSHS seniors, Matt Wallace and Ashlee Cooper.

The trip is both students’ senior project, which, Cooper said, they wanted to be something “more meaningful than the ‘quick and easy’ projects some people do.”

Wallace and Cooper worked to get youth organized on every level. Wallace wrote a commentary for the Yellow Springs News and spoke at the “Not In Our Name” peace rally downtown two weeks ago. Wallace and Cooper passed out leaflets and placed a sign-up table in the high school cafeteria, an effort that resulted in enough reservations (which cost $57 a person) to fill a bus full of high school students. Local adults will fill a second bus.

“There are young people who know what’s going on,” Wallace said, explaining that even youth are able to read between the lines when it comes to the possible war in Iraq. “This shows how much people care about this issue. And while the students and adults may be on two different buses, we’re [all] riding with the same views in mind.”

Cooper, who is 17, is a National Merit Scholar semifinalist. Wallace, 18, is a member of the YSHS boys varsity soccer team and was crowned Homecoming king this fall.

Wallace came up with the idea to organize Yellow Springs youth around preventing another war in Iraq as he watched the evening news with his mother, Aurelia Blake. “Matt was asking ‘what is going on here? Why are people putting up with this?’ ” said Blake, who teaches language arts at the McKinney School. “One thing led to another, and I said, ‘wouldn’t it be cool if you did something?’ ”

Wallace, who just recently registered his Selective Service information, took the idea to heart and turned it into his senior project. A few days later, Cooper talked to Wallace about the idea and decided to help him with the daunting task of getting one-sixth of their entire high school on a bus.

“It was always in the back of my head, it might not work,” Wallace said about the first few days of organizing.

Although many people initially signed up for the protest, most students were not sure if they could actually make the trip because of time constraints and concerns about money. “Once we extended the deadline, the reservations and donations started pouring in,” Cooper said.

With Blake’s help, Cooper and Wallace opened a bank account under the name of “Voice of the People” to handle all the contributions. “It seemed like for a while, I was handing over $600 twice a day to my mom to deposit,” Wallace said.

Some parents and interested village residents who couldn’t attend themselves made donations. The largest donation came from one person who donated $171 to reserve three seats. “That’s a lot of money to just donate to someone else,” said Wallace.

Some students paid out of their own pockets. Cooper and Wallace described a tense moment when their friend Aurianna Tuttle handed them her $57, which was everything in her wallet.

The plan is to leave on Friday night, join the anti-war protest on Saturday and return to Yellow Springs on Sunday afternoon. The bus fare only covers the rental price and gas. Thanks to the generosity of donors, Cooper and Wallace received enough money to reserve motel rooms for the bus drivers and buy them dinner.

Wallace and Cooper will document the entire weekend on film and video and present their project to teachers and students at the high school next spring.

Besides the logistical problems and stress both have experienced while working on the project, the students have had to make some sacrifices.

Wallace, a member of the YSHS boys varsity soccer team, will miss the Division III District final game against Springfield Catholic Central because he will be on the trip. When asked about this, he seemed to shrug it off, explaining that the D.C. demonstration was much more important. “In a way, it feels like when our parents went to Washington because of the Vietnam War,” Wallace said, “This is so important and now it’s our turn.”

Cooper agreed. “Our government isn’t representing us,” she said. “We ought to do something about it.”

—Michael Hogan Jr.