October 31, 2002

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Protesting for peace—
Yellow Springs students rally in D.C.

Demonstators stood shoulder to shoulder during the peace rally held in Washington, D.C., Saturday, Oct. 26.

By Don Wallis

Young people of Yellow Springs helped lead a massive rally for peace Saturday in the nation’s capital, hailed as the biggest grassroots demonstration to be held in Washington since the Vietnam era three decades ago. People came from throughout the United States to protest the Bush administration’s threatened war against Iraq.

In the massed crowd of more than 100,000 people — some observers estimated 150,000, even 200,000 — were 42 teenagers from Yellow Springs, students at Yellow Springs High School and McKinney Middle School. They ranged in age from 13 to 18.

They were awesome. Wearing bright yellow “no war” headbands and displaying bright yellow signs and banners, accompanied by giant walking puppets 15 feet tall, the Yellow Springs kids drew special attention — praise, applause and gratitude — for their vivid commitment to the cause of peace.
“Yellow Springs High School, Ohio,” their signs and banners proclaimed.


One of the signs offered a corrective lesson to President Bush: “Act Like It’s a Globe, not an Empire!”

In a poignant reference to the 9/11 Twin Towers tragedy, a black-edged sign declared: “Our Grief Is Not A Cry for War.”

And one of the Yellow Springs banners declared “Community for Peace.”

The students’ purpose in going to Washington was “to let our voices be heard,” said one of the two leaders of the Yellow Springs group, high school senior Ashlee Cooper.

“This government doesn’t speak for me,” she said, and so she felt she must raise her own voice. It is a right and a duty of American citizenship, she said, to express dissent in an orderly, peaceful protest.

Another student, Martin Borchers, said he went to Washington to march for peace because “I don’t want war to be the only option. I don’t think it should be. I feel that peace should be an option.” And, he said, “I learned that if there is a war, they are expecting 30,000 deaths. I feel peace is something worth marching for.”

Ashlee Cooper and Matt Wallace, also a senior, organized the peace rally trip as their senior project at Yellow Springs High School. Aurelia Blake, Matt’s mother and a teacher at the McKinney School, helped conceive the project and bring it to fruition.

They chartered two buses, one for students and the other for adults from the community. Both buses were full when they left for Washington Friday night, with 45 riders on each bus. Several Yellow Springs people drove their cars to the rally; in all, more than 100 villagers went to Washington.

Talking with Jesse Jackson

The peace rally lasted all day, with the crowd gathering around a stage on the mall near the Lincoln Memorial, where the great civil rights rallies led by Martin Luther King Jr. were held. The Vietnam War Memorial was a short distance away.

The peace rally crowd grew larger and larger as the rally progressed until, as several speakers said, there were people massed in all directions, as far as the eye could see. Not since the 1960s demonstrations against the Vietnam war and in support of the civil rights movement have so many people come to Washington to protest their government’s policies.

Among the dozen-plus speakers at the rally were Jesse Jackson, actress Susan Sarandon, Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, civil rights activist Larry Holmes and former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark. Other speakers were leaders of religious, youth, workers’ and women’s organizations.

The themes of their speeches reflected the messages conveyed by the thousands of signs and banners displayed in the audience: “No Blood for Oil,” “No Peace Without Justice,” “Drop Bushes, Not Bombs,” “Save the Children” and “Money For Jobs Not War.” Their overall message was: the American people do not want a war with Iraq, and the world does not want an American Empire.

Jesse Jackson was the most popular speaker, the one the crowd most wanted to hear, the one who drew the most rousing applause. Before he spoke, some of the Yellow Springs people talked with him in back of the stage, just after he arrived at the rally.

In the crush of the crowd that swarmed around Jackson was Aaron Cobb of Yellow Springs, bearing the bright yellow “Stop the War” banner with Yellow Springs High School’s name on it. It caught Jackson’s eye. He asked about the high school, and soon he was deep in conversation about Yellow Springs with a group that included Aaron Cobb, Matt Wallace and Aurelia Blake.

Their discussion went on for several moments as the crowd pressed close all around them. People were snapping pictures of them — in this moment the Yellow Springs people, as well as Jesse Jackson, were celebrities.

Jackson congratulated them for coming, beaming at them and shaking their hands. He said the future of the world depended on young people like them. “You are in the right place and at the right time,” Jackson told them. He said they were the leaders of the future.

‘Part of a true community’

On this day it seemed the Yellow Springs young people already were leaders. These kids had led their hometown community to this peace rally; and once they got there, they became leaders, in a sense, of the peace-rally community that formed for this day’s event.

All day long, the Yellow Springs kids were everywhere around the rally site. Everywhere you looked you saw them in their bright yellow headbands, with their signs and banners and giant puppets thrust high into the air above the crowd.

People noticed. They appreciated these young people’s presence — their youth, their energy, the sense of community —“community of peace”— they conveyed. People in the crowd were heard exclaiming, “There’s a whole school here from Ohio.”

When it came time for the rally to end and the march to begin, the Yellow Springs kids came together in a marching group and made their way through the crowd toward the street. People in the crowd stood aside to let them pass, and spontaneously they began to applaud, and they kept applauding — a standing ovation — until the whole group had passed by.

Included in the group along with the kids were several of the adults from Yellow Springs, who spent the day helping the kids work with the signs and banners and the giant puppets. It is hard work, rallying for peace — holding up heavy signs in a jostling crowd for hours and hours, or applying the complex skills it takes to balance and move the giant puppets. Gwin Cane, Lynn Sontag, and Beth and Andy Holyoke helped bring the giant puppets to life, and Mike Carr and his son Joe helped carry some of the biggest signs and banners.

The adults’ supportive presence was an important part of the day’s meaning for the students. “I felt like I was part of a true community,” said one student. “Sometimes I feel like the Yellow Springs adult community and the high school community never come together. This was a great event because we did come together. It felt nice to be standing by your elder Yellow Springs citizens, standing up together for something you truly believe in.”

‘What democracy looks like’

The people marched through the streets of Washington, thronged together shoulder-to-shoulder, completely filling the broad avenues. There were so many people marching that the march often slowed to a crawl, or stopped altogether before starting up again. It was a good-natured crowd. There was no pushing or shoving. There were only rarely any signs of tension. Police lined the streets, but they weren’t really needed — all day long, they made only three arrests.

It was, perhaps, the beginning of a rebirth of the peace movement in America.

The marchers chanted: “This is what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like.”

As the march approached the White House, there was a lull in the chanting. Some of the marchers tried to get new chants started, but they fizzled out. Yellow Springs youth came to the rescue. Tia Lurie and Rose Byrnes were among the marchers, bearing the banner that said “Community for Peace.” Tia remembered hearing a chant earlier in the march — she started chanting it, and Rose joined in:

They say it’s for the people,

So the people can be free.

But WE are the people—

Don’t fight this war for me!

The marching crowd picked it up, and it quickly caught on. That chant was chanted by thousands of peace marchers as they marched around the grounds of the White House.

’I could really change the world’

That night on the bus going back home, the Yellow Springs young people wrote about their reactions to their day.

“I feel it was a life-changing experience,” Bethany Borbely wrote. “I was amazed by the cultural diversity . . . I truly feel that by participating in the protest it has changed my outlook on worldwide issues.”

Jeanna GunderKline wrote: “This is the first time that I have ever joined together with a huge group of people that feel the same way I do — strongly — about an important issue. I am so glad that I decided to take this opportunity to exercise the right to let my voice be heard.”

Aurianna Tuttle: “I was amazed to see all the different colors, types and religions all come together as one. Now I feel like I know so much more about our brothers and sisters in Iraq! This was an awesome trip.”

James Hyde: “I had the awe-inspiring feeling that I was part of a great movement of people all over the world, standing up for what we believe.”

Elizabeth Dixon: “It was amazing to see all the people stand up for what they believe in. It was not just about politics or some difference they have to fight for, it was about the true meaning and importance of the whole issue and how it would affect everyone’s lives, now and in the future. It made me happy to see all those people cared so much.”

Tia Lurie: “I was incredibly excited . . . At the rally and the march I felt so good about everything. We were all there for such a good cause, I felt like I was really doing something. As one of the speakers, Susan Sarandon, said, ‘We are putting our stake in peace!’ And I can tell you truthfully that my stake will stay for a very long time.”

Darcy Hennessey: “It was truly overwhelming to see so many people come together like that. I hope to do more things like this in the future, now that I know how fulfilling they can be, and how much these protests can change the course of history.”

Lila Jensen: “There were times when everyone was smiling and I felt overwhelmingly happy. You could almost forget the threat of war due to the beauty of belonging.”

Anna Kyaio: “Today showed me that I could really change the world.”