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The Repression of Students in America

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None of the Democratic presidential candidates were asked about students having their civil liberties or more specifically, their freedom of speech rights violated. That could be because they don’t want students like me and the Morton West students to speak. After all, they have made it known to us what our place is in this society. It has been made evident through the CNN/YouTube debates, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, and the way military recruitment has been sold to high schools across America: Students are allowed to speak out for America under their terms and their parameters.

Recently, the student movement in America gained a victory with the Morton West incident. The Morton West students who were to be expelled had their threatened expulsions dropped. This was a result of students all over Chicago in high schools and colleges coming together in solidarity to tell the establishment, “We matter and you will not keep us down.” Hearings, protests, media coverage, and a planned press conference during a week of action to show support for the Morton West students led to Superintendent Ben Nowakowski allowing 38 students suspended and those who faced expulsion to return to class. Because parents, students, local peace groups, Rainbow/PUSH and free speech advocates from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund all stood up, victory was won but after that victory, a new fight began.

Nowakowski and any administrators beneath him or on his level separated the students into those who participated and those who were “ringleaders.” Those who were not “ringleaders” went back to school on Wednesday while four other students were told they would have to wait until Friday to go back to school. Knowing full well that he had to send a message that would divide the solidarity of the youth at Morton West, he had to differentiate between those who arranged the sit-in that “disrupted” the education of students when it was held.

The parents and students were also quick to show that school officials showed favoritism in dishing out disciplinary measures after the protest at the school by giving students who play varsity athletics or have higher grade-point averages were given less stringent penalties for the demonstration. Straight-A students were told that they were going to be expelled and should not do this because it will wind up on their record. Such favoritism has led to the birth of a fight to wipe clean every student’s record regardless of how they have performed in school.

What’s at issue here right now is what those suspensions are going to mean for these students. Pam Winstead, a parent whose son was given a 10-day suspension and faced expulsion for participating in the war protest, said:

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"Maybe he acted emotionally and he'd never dealt with this before," she said. "We just want him to back off. These are our kids, and he's willing to throw their future away."

However, this was a well-reasoned decision, which three of the four students stood up and spoke about at a press conference held at 4 pm in Chicago today. They said they had no regrets. They were inspired to take action because students in Morton West were not responding to or thinking about the Iraq war. Given the fact that they have had universal support to have their expulsions removed and that support came from people as prominent as Jesse Jackson, they plan to keep up this fight and continue to fight for peace. And as they closed up their little pieces on participating in the protest they added that their fight has led to the school reconsidering its policies with respect to military recruiters. So, it sounds like they are on their way to a second victory.

This incident was not isolated. It is part of a pattern of violations going on in America.

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At the press conference, a Veterans for Peace leader stood up and recounted his adult encounters with repression. He spoke about CIA Director Michael Hayden’s visit to Chicago where ANSWER held a protest. He and a group of people chose to purchase tickets to the event a couple weeks in advance. They went up to the event and were ready to go in when they were stopped and told they were not allowed to enter. He and his group were informed that they were on a “list.” The people who refused him and his friends entry did not say what the list was for or why they were on the list and two and a half week later, there is still no answer to their questions. But certainly, all of us including student like me have to ask if we are on such a list.

And so that seems to be the most fitting question for all of us and for the school officials at Morton West as well as the parents and students: Because of the protest, are these 38 students’ names now on this “secret list” which our government keeps updating on a daily basis? What are we going to do to end the listing of citizens for peaceful protesting which prevents travel (in the case of Ann Wright), a future in certain careers, and may prevent the government from giving students like the ones at Morton West student loans for college?


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Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure." He was an editor for OpEdNews.com

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