Student-led demonstration pushes peace
BRECKENRIDGE – What started as a debate in freshmen civics class led two young women to a real-world lesson in freedom of speech and political activism.
Saturday, Summit High School freshmen Jenna Langseth and Allison Helmer braved the early morning chill (and a some jeers from dissenters) to demonstrate in support of peace over a looming military conflict in Iraq. Local Green Party members and peace activists joined the girls on Ski Hill Road in front of Breckenridge’s town hall with banners and hands outstretched in two-fingered peace signs.
The demonstration started as a discussion in teacher Jim Skorvc’s civics class. Skorvc said Saturday the students expressed strong feelings and he questioned why young people had not yet gotten involved in the anti-war movement.
Langseth said she suddenly found a passion.
“First, we called the police department to see what we needed to do,” Langseth said. “They told us to talk to the town clerk, and we found out we didn’t need a permit, just permission. They had us come out and shovel off a spot near the sidewalk. We can’t block the parking lot or the sidewalk – that’s obstruction, I guess.”
To promote the event, Helmer went on the air for a live interview with Biff America, KYSL radio host. Helmer said she was nervous but excited about her first-ever political activity.
“We’ve never done anything like this before,” Helmer said. “We’re learning a lot just by doing this. And hopefully it gets people’s attention. Kids aren’t just sitting on the couch or doing bad things. We care about what’s going on, too.”
Attention to student opinion on U.S. intervention in Iraq over weapons of mass destruction has increased in the past week. A 17-year-old junior at Legacy High in Broomfield was suspended by principals last week for posting fliers about war protest in school. The fliers encouraged students to participate in a National Youth and Student Peace Coalition walkout on March 5, which is organizing students to leave school at 8 a.m. that day as a demonstration against war.
A Dearborn Heights, Mich. student was sent home last week for refusing to take off a T-shirt featuring a picture of President George W. Bush and the words “International Terrorist.” The boy’s story was featured in the New York Times.
Langseth and Helmer said Summit High administrators prohibited them from putting up fliers about Saturday’s demonstration. Skorvc said the school’s policy is to not allow advertising for events not sponsored by the school.
“This is great to see,” said Skorvc, who picked up a peace-promoting placard as well. “In another one of my classes, students asked if they could participate in the effort by sending bags of rice to the president. Other students in the class were in support of the war, so I had them write letters saying that. It’s all part of the lesson in democracy.”
For Langseth, the demonstration took on an additional meaning – family involvement. Her father videotaped part of the event and her mother stood alongside her with a banner.
Mitra Langseth, an Iranian-born Muslim, said politics is a discussion that takes place in the home, too. Mitra said she supported the first Gulf War, but said circumstances are different now and she questions the White House’s motivation.
“But this was Jenna’s idea,” Mitra Langseth said. “I guess we rubbed off on her, though. I think it’s great.”
Passersby alternated between honks of support and shouts of discouragement. The group hoped that, as the day passed, more students and adults would join the sidewalk stand-in.
Other activists have organized a Friday Afternoon Peace Club. For the past three weeks, demonstrators have taken positions at intersections throughout Breckenridge. Green Party member and Friday peace promoter Doug Malkan said the events will continue.
Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or email@example.com.
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