Nationwide, young people take stand

Posted: Wednesday, March 26, 2003

CHICAGO The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq is awakening the activist spirit in America's youth, with many adding their voices to the war debate and taking to the streets for the first time in their lives.

Bob Nardo is one of them. He and other young Republicans from American University recently gathered to wave U.S. flags outside the French embassy in Washington a show of displeasure for that country's lack of support.

Some of us feel like all we're hearing is 'All students are against the war and listening to the Beatles,''' says Nardo, a junior studying public affairs. A lot of us are feeling trapped and misrepresented.''

The war also has prompted Christin Hinojosa to get involved, by performing guerrilla theater'' with a group that includes her mom and brothers.

The day after the first U.S. strike, Hinojosa and others dressed in white, with faces and arms painted in the same color, to play the part of war victims, throwing themselves onto downtown Chicago sidewalks to feign death.

I think a lot of people, no matter how they feel, are reacting out of fear,'' says Hinojosa, a graduate student at the University of Chicago's school of social work. For us, on the side of peace, we're feeling that if we don't stop the war and don't voice dissent, then we are in more danger.''

With faces painted like skulls and hands covered in red paint to depict blood, her brothers Damien and Mateo Hinojosa marched over the victims'' and waved WAR'' flags. Onlookers stopped to stare, with looks ranging from amusement to bewilderment to anger.

You're pitiful! Disgusting!'' one man shouted from an open window several stories up, as the group made its way to an anti-war demonstration.

The Chicago event was part of the broadest round of anti-government protests in years. The war also has prompted several pro-American counter-demonstrations and student rallies, from Northern Illinois University to California State University, Long Beach.

High school students are getting involved, too.

Candace Coleman, from Los Angeles, hung War Is The Answer'' posters at her high school after some students staged an anti-war walkout.

Such walkouts happening at scores of high schools and universities across the country are just one of many signs that this war has touched a nerve for America's youth.

Few issues have made me so passionate. Protesters for and against the war, are almost as passionate as those during Vietnam,'' says Coleman, who got involved because she's tired of seeing anti-Americanism run amok.''

Some young people are so fired up that they're setting aside day-to day activities.

My parents might cringe to hear this,'' says Justin Garland, a 22-year-old senior who's leading anti-war efforts at the University of Puget Sound in Washington state. But for me, social justice activism is more important than school.''

Others are making their statements in quieter ways.

Kelli Stripling, a 23-year-old loan officer from Lawrenceville, Ga., says she's showing her support for U.S. troops by refusing to buy concert tickets and CDs for the country group the Dixie Chicks.

Lead singer Natalie Maines angered some with a comment she made during a London concert: Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.'' Maines later apologized.

New Yorker Jessica Beattie also prefers other methods to protesting.

I don't think protest rallies change minds,'' says Beattie, a 24-year-old Brooklyn resident who opposes the war. If the masses really wanted to make a difference in politics, they should voice those opinions through petitions and letters'' to their members of Congress.

Still others say it's time to drop the debate.

Regardless of your opinion, I think people should just suck it up,'' says Devin Conroy, freshman at Catholic University of America. If everyone unites, it'll be a much better scenario for our country.''

That attitude concerns Beattie, who likens the response to the Dixie Chicks and other dissenters to the mood during the McCarthy era.

But so far with so many young people and others expressing their opinions at least one constitutional expert believes there's little to worry about.

In this country, the First Amendment protects that very debate,'' says Stephen Frank, director for research at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. And it's a healthy thing for that debate to take place.''

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