A National Vote For Getting Out of Iraq

Saif Rahman
November 7, 2006

The American people have spoken. The mid-term elections 2006 will be remembered as a vote of protest against the status quo in Iraq.

Now more than ever, young people in the United States are being used for the benefit of a few. This war disproportionately hurts young people -- whether it's military recruiters in our schools, or cuts to federal programs that benefit youth in order to pay for the war, or being the lives at stake on the ground in Iraq. Young people's response has to, therefore, be disproportionately strong. It's clear and obvious that our foreign policy is not only waged on the backs of young people, but it is also completely and deeply wounding an entire generation of people -- our generation.

While young people are being robbed of money, education, opportunities and lives, others are making money off of us and further solidifying their power.

However, this does not have to be so. The simple fact is that young people in the U.S. have the numbers to dictate many of our policies. From the Iraq War to federal spending priorities, we could, should, and must have a larger say on both our foreign and domestic policy.

Youth -- 24 years of age and younger -- constitute over 35 percent of the population of this country, tragically, only 19 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds actually cast ballots in the last midterm election. And even though youth came out in record numbers in the last presidential elections, midterm elections -- with crucial state and local decisions affecting living wage, immigration, education and health care -- affect young people arguably even more than the presidential elections.

Building solidarity, every day

In addition to voting, there are plenty of ways that young people can come together, build solidarity with one another, and start to change policies that historically have hurt us. One of which, happened yesterday, when young people walked out of our schools and jobs not only to bring together a significant voting block for candidates who support our needs and demands, but moreover, to build a movement that will take our power back. Whether it is by voting, for those who can, or by collectively displaying our grievances in public, for those who can't -- we need to be more organized in between elections, if we want to change these policies that are destroying our generation.

Of the over 2,800 deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq, the majority of them are under the age of 25. As the death toll rises, the military has increased their efforts to recruit young people. Recruiters are preying on youth from our high school hallways to MySpace, to get us to sign up for the military, and then, the "Stop Loss" program forces them to stay after their time is up. The U.S. has spent almost $400 billion on this war, while it has also made the largest cut in history to federal aid for college, cut funding for the Department of Education, cut job training programs and cut veteran benefits.

This is simply unconscionable.

With options so limited -- the only choice for young people has been to educate, organize, and mobilize. The National Youth and Student Peace Coalition (NYSPC), the largest youth/student anti-war coalition in the country, helped organize a powerful display of the youth and student movement for peace and justice. On November 7th, the day of the mid-term elections, young people across this country "Walked Out to Get Out" of Iraq. NYSPC called for young people to walk out of their schools, their campuses, and their jobs, not only to go out and vote and to help others vote, but also to show the people in power that the youth and students of this country will not stand aside while they prioritize war and profit over our needs.

In the lead up to November 7th, students across this country organized educational events to highlight how this war is affecting young people. Through a variety of creative means, young people are spreading dissent from the northeast to the south. In New York City, a group called, Uptown Youth for Peace and Justice organized an open -- microphone night, entitled "Politics, Poetry, and Peace" that focused on the poverty draft and military recruiters in our school through poetry and spoken word. In Fayetteville, Arkansas, a coalition of youth groups organized a march and rally to protest the war. And throughout the Midwest, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War told the truth about the war through their own personal experiences.

Books Not Bombs!

With the war continuing to spin out of control, as more and more young people die and as opportunities are literally being voted away by congress, sounds of dissent are echoing in high schools and on college campus across this country. There is a war both at home and abroad -- and young people are the victims of both. NYSPC's tagline is "Books Not Bombs!" and that is quite literally what we are demanding.

NYSPC asked youth and students to walk out so that we will get out of Iraq. We demand books and not bombs. While they have the money and the guns and consequently the power, young people have the numbers to take that power back.

As Arundhati Roy said, "Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them."

They need young people to carry on this war, but we certainly don't need them. That is why young people walked out -- to get out the vote, to get them out of office, and mostly importantly, to get out of Iraq.

Saif Rahman is the Movements Coordinator for Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. He is a Coordinating Committee Member of the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition. Photo by Jonathan McIntosh.