Students for a Democratic Society Storm Capitol Hill
By Hannah Rappleye
On Jan. 27 at 5 A.M., five members of Students for a Democratic Society at The New School jumped into a van and sped off to Washington, D.C., to join thousands of other students in a day of protest against the Iraq war.
What they didn’t know at the time was that by the end of the day, they would charge the capital steps and storm into a local Marine recruitment center.
The anti-war march, sponsored by United for Peace and Justice, is estimated to have included 500,000 people. Around 50 chapters of SDS from around the country participated in the march.
When they arrived in D.C., the students congregated with the radical youth and student bloc at the Smithsonian Institute. Further away, at DuPont Circle, another group of SDS members met with the anti-authoritarian and the Black Bloc, a group that dresses in all black when protesting to avoid being identified by authorities.
Those that met at DuPont Circle marched separately from the thousands of liberals with placards that were milling around the mall. When they reached the capital steps, they stopped walking, grabbed hold of the barrier in front of them and began to pull.
As they ripped down the fence, the police descended upon the protestors. It would be the first of many confrontations with the police.
According to New School SDS founder and Lang freshman Pat Korte, when the other contingent heard people were getting “attacked” by the police, the youth and student bloc made the decision to march to the mall and “join in solidarity with the second bloc.”
“We met at the capital steps and the fence was already torn down,” Korte said. “It was a pretty amazing sight. There was a police officer on a megaphone and we couldn’t hear what he was saying because everyone was chanting over him, ‘Iraq is not alone, bring the war home.’”
The crowd around the broken fence eventually dispersed and the two blocs, now united, joined the main march.
But things were moving slowly, according to Korte.
“It was fun, it was militant,” he said. “But we thought that our efforts could be directed somewhere else.”
In what Korte called a “burst of spontaneity,” between 1,000 and 1,500 youth from various organizations ran to charge the capital for a second time.
As the groups hurtled up the steps, the police drove motorcycles through the crowd in an attempt to break it up. People began to scream chants at the police like, “Bush lied, people died! We won’t stop ‘till we get inside!”
“People were face to face with police on the capital steps and the police couldn’t do anything because there was a no arrest order,” Korte said.
According to Lang freshman Alex Cline, it was at that time when a small contingent of around 200 youth, including SDS members, the anti-authoritarian bloc and the Black Bloc, broke away from the group at the capital steps and, after talking to local residents, discovered the local Marines recruitment center.
“The march was beginning to wind down. But it was my first time in D.C., and I wasn’t ready to go home yet,” Cline said.
On the walk to the recruitment center, the group persuaded others to join them, including a group of skateboarders who, when told “you can’t skate if you’re in Iraq,” by one of the protestors, skated ahead of the group and reported back with the location of police and police barricades.
Cline said that as soon as people attempted to enter the recruitment center, the police became extremely violent.
“The bicycle police rammed them and started beating them with nightsticks,” Cline said. “Then somebody threw a rock through the window and the police took out tazers.”
As the police broke out the tazers, the group managed to arrange itself in a circle around the recruitment center.
“The police were surrounded,” Cline said. “They didn’t have the space to make any arrests, or the space to hold people. They grabbed a few people but basically let us go.”
After they left the center, SDS members held a vigil on the capital lawn and then got kicked out by police.
The presence of the Black Bloc—who confronted police at the center dressed in shields—and the outburst of violence that occurred at the center, sparked a debate among New School SDS members as they drove home the next morning.
“Because it was happening so quickly, these things just happen,” Korte said. “A few particular individuals are capable of manipulating a group of people. The thing we were discussing is how you make decisions on the spur of the moment.”
SDS members also talked through their overall strategy and debated whether violent action had any place within the movement they are trying to build.
“I’m not a pacifist,” Korte said. “But tactics need to fit into a broad strategy. So what is our broad strategy? Is it simply ending the war? Is it building a new, more egalitarian society? Or is it fucking shit up? Fucking shit up can fit into one of those as a tactic, but it’s not a strategy.”
Korte said that SDS is still in the process of both shaping their approach to organizing and determining what their ultimate goals are, but putting an end to the Iraq war and raising the consciousness of students at The New School—a university that is taking a turn towards conservative politics, according to SDS members—is at the top of their list.
Ultimately, what came out of the march, Korte said, “was the commitment to declaring more than ‘peace now, peace now.’ It’s time to step it up. We need to be like, ‘We’re gonna stop this motherfucker. It’s wrong, it’s illegal, it’s immoral, it’s illegitimate, and we’re going to stop it.’”
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Students for a Democratic Society Storm Capitol Hill