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Thursday, March 6, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Local students join protests against potential Iraq war

Seattle Times staff reporters

College, high-school and middle-school students brought an anti-war message to the streets of downtown Seattle yesterday, taking their place among tens of thousands of young people who protested around the country, arguing that the United States should be spending more time on domestic issues than on war planning.

The students, several hundred strong at one point as they marched from Seattle Central Community College to Westlake Park, were part of a national student strike called Books Not Bombs! and sponsored by the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition.

Some 300 campuses were involved, including Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Whitman College in Walla Walla and The Evergreen State College in Olympia. At Seattle's Cornish College of the Arts, about 100 students walked out of classes, said Sheamus O'Rork, a local organizer.

"It's frustrating — the priorities of our country are really messed up," said Garfield High School senior Lizzy Baskerville. "It makes students really mad that we don't have enough textbooks at our school, but our country has enough money for a war."

It could not be determined yesterday how many students participated across the nation, and the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition had no immediate estimate.

"If we don't come out, then our opinion isn't heard by the White House, by anyone," said 10th-grader Bernard Mantel, 16, who gathered with classmates at Union Square in New York City.

Thousands of students in Britain, Sweden, Spain, Australia and other countries also rallied for peace. The U.S. protests also were geared to call attention to the effects of a war on education, health care and the economy.

Students attended by the hundreds at some campuses; at others, attendance was light. Some were met by groups calling for support of the Bush administration.

Dozens of Stanford professors endorsed the rally there, either by telling students there would be no penalties for leaving class or by canceling class.

Elsewhere in California, hundreds of students at Santa Monica City College rallied and about 500 Venice High School students left class for a protest on the school's front lawn, waving signs and chanting "No more war, no more war."

At San Antonio College, Melissa St. John, who favors an Iraq invasion, got into a nose-to-nose shouting match with a young man who argued no positive link has been made between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

St. John later said she doesn't like the idea of war, but that diplomatic efforts to rein in Saddam have failed. "None of us like it, but it's time," she said. "Our country is under attack."

Sporadic rain fell as hundreds of protesters — and a small number of Bush administration supporters holding a counter-demonstration — gathered at Penn State University.

In the Seattle area, businesses like Boeing and Safeco reported no change in the numbers of people calling in sick, and ridership on state ferries was typical. Student traffic at the University of Washington was normal. Seattle high-school students were released at 12:15 p.m. for teacher training, and the school district had no more calls than usual for substitute teachers.

"I think (protesters) could effect change in so many other ways," said Sean Oak, a 24-year-old student at Seattle Central, who chose not to participate in the march. "You see them out here with their picket signs — but why don't they run for office, write a newspaper article or stop driving cars?"

Some students from Salmon Bay Middle School in Ballard attended after school administrators decided to honor a request by the student council to make a political statement.

Workers at the rally said they had either juggled their schedules or received their employers' permission to attend. Mark Leemon of the Leemon + Royer law firm, shut down his business, letting about half a dozen employees out early and leaving a voice message that the office was closed to participate in the day of protest.

"One thing that all of us who are old enough have learned from the Vietnam War is it is not only not helpful, it's a bad idea to do nothing in the face of bad policy," said Leemon, who sported an American-flag tie at the Westlake rally.

He said he had taken his daughter, Sonia, out early from The Evergreen School in Shoreline to attend the rally after she had researched the issues.

Margo Heights, an organizer for the Seattle chapter of the anti-war group Not In Our Name, said the Westlake crowd swelled to 2,000. Seattle police, who monitored the protest from bicycle and horseback, said it was closer to 700 to 1,000 people.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Eric Sorensen: 206-464-8253 or esorensen@seattletimes.com

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