For more than six hours following the Troops Out Now Coalition’s march on Sept. 29 to cut off the funds for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, more than 100 youth and students from across the country blockaded Constitution and Pennsylvania avenues, the major roads leading to the Capitol building. They demanded an end to war funding and vowed that if the people’s resources continue to be used to wage imperialist war, the government will be prevented from operating.
WW photo: Liz Green
Youth from as far away as Oregon, Florida and Vermont, and representing chapters of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Fight Imperialism, Stand Together (FIST), Campus Anti-War Network (CAN), Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and others, together with TONC leaders, united in the streets around a common demand of “Troops Out Now!”
As the march approached its destination at the Capitol building, hundreds of youth ran forward to block Constitution Avenue, and as the main body of the march passed the action many more joined in. Despite the willingness of many of the youth to risk arrest in order to close access to the Capitol, D.C. police were apparently overwhelmed by the size and militancy of the action.
After holding Constitution for an hour, the youth moved one block to take over the busier intersection where Constitution and Pennsylvania avenues meet. All six lanes of Constitution were blockaded so successfully that youth felt free to dance, string up banners and signs from the traffic lights, and even order pizza.
After several hours it became clear that the police did not have the political will to take back the streets, so youth erected tents and organized themselves into security and logistical teams, preparing for a long stay. Around 10 p.m., after more than six hours, all the activists triumphantly marched back to the Encampment, chanting “Whose streets? Our streets” with a whole new meaning.
On Friday afternoon, in another display of student power, the same youth had taken over the busy D.C. streets in an unpermitted march to unmask the hypocrisy of the government and point out the effects the war has had even on youth at home in the U.S.
Marching first on the Department of Education, they blocked the entrances which ironically proclaim “No child left behind,” and demanded money for adequate education and college loans, rather than the current policy of increasing education costs to force youth into the military.
At the Department of Injustice, Tyneisha Bowens of Raleigh FIST proclaimed the closing of the building, demanding “Free the Cuban Five! Free the Jena Six! Free Mumia Abu-Jamal! Free all political prisoners! No longer will we allow this government to criminalize the resistance. We must have a People’s Department of Justice to bring justice to the war criminals in government.”
Friday’s youth march went next to the local military recruiting station, blocking traffic the whole way, where students blocked the streets, poured into the recruiting station, and used the military’s printed lies as confetti. After successfully closing the recruiting station, and announcing the need to instead recruit more youth to the movement, the young revolutionaries turned their attention to the Capitol itself. Arriving at the Capitol with a tail of at least 15 police cars of various departments, the youth made their final stand on the Capitol lawn and tied all their grievances together at the seat of this government.
Both actions reflected a progression from earlier tactics in the youth movement, a move from protest to resistance. In addition to marching and vocalizing their demands, youth showed their ability to actually occupy the oppressive institutions. Due to their high level of discipline, organization and unity, all of the activists were uninjured and avoided arrest, even though they were willing to face these consequences if necessary.
As Bowens summarized, “This was more than a symbolic action of civil disobedience. We actually showed our ability to occupy territory and make it serve our needs, not to oppress us.”
Gilbert is an organizer with Raleigh FIST.