Pre-School Kids Protest Possible War in Iraq

July 7, 2008 - 8:20 PM

They still believe in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus. They don't know how to spell their last names or tie their own shoes. But they do know that "war is bad," and that "Bush is a bully."

The next generation of Berkeley peaceniks gathered on the steps of City Hall Tuesday to demonstrate their opposition to a pending war in Iraq- after school, of course. Armed with protest signs, microphones, and Harry Potter lunch-boxes, elementary and pre-school children demanded city leaders contact President Bush and halt his hawkish "war for oil."

Two hundred students from Berkeley schools met local dignitaries, including Mayor Shirley Dean, city council members and a representative for Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D-Berkeley. Surrounding a 'peace bell' fashioned out of melted guns taken off of East Bay streets, children took to the microphone saying, "I don't want people to die," and, "we can't keep killing each other. Then we will all die and suffer."

Though most students at the rally could not even name Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, many seemed certain the pending U.S. led war in Iraq is about oil.

Celia, age 6, who could not spell her hyphenated last name, told the crowd President Bush "wants to make war because he wants oil."

"What is so important about cars anyway," she asked.

Later, when asked if she could name the president of Iraq, Celia, stumped, turned to a friend and asked, "Is it a boy or a girl?" Her friend, equally puzzled, responded, "I think it's a boy."

Noah, who declined to give his last name, also age six, asserted the looming war is not only about oil, but also "other things, like Bush wanting land."

"It is like us squashing ants," he said.

With city officials looking on, the children sang a song about "peace in the world-that means no fighting." They held colorful homemade signs calling for peace and no war. One boy had a blue bumper sticker emblazoned on the front of his t-shirt that read: "War in Iraq: NO." Another held a sign saying, "No War on Children." With her mother holding a bullhorn, one child shouted a chant for peace across the City Hall plaza, as if taking cue from UC Berkeley students on Sproul Plaza.

The delegation of city leaders addressed the amassed children, telling them "we heard your message." Berkeley City Councilmember Linda Maio said, "We hear it loud and clear. Bush needs a time-out."

The elected leaders then signed a pledge to call President Bush and tell him "children want peace" and to urge him to "use words to resolve conflicts as we are learning."

The rally was organized through several Berkeley pre-schools that pride themselves on their alternative curriculum. At New School, academics are set aside for physical activities like yoga. And at Berkwood Hedge, a private K-5 school with 115 students, the curriculum focuses largely on issues of social justice. This year's theme at the school is peace. Students in after school programs at public elementary schools in the city also comprised the congregation of young peace protesters.

Sandy Morrill, mother of a seven year old at Berkwood Hedge, accompanied her son to the protest, saying it is important for the children to have a voice in politics.

"This is what they've been learning at school," she said. "They have been taught about conflict resolution, and here they see it in action. The kids get to wrestle with bigger questions."

Director of New School in Berkeley Susan Hagen said the children are "very concerned about what is going on in the world." "They don't want war. We teach them about talking, discussion, and negotiation."

But Skyler Johnson, 5, hadn't learned much about the conflict in Iraq. When he was asked who is the President of Iraq, he shrugged his shoulders and said, "My mom might know." After she came over and gave him a little coaching, he was able to muster, "We don't want war. Oil kills lots of people."

The rally, which seemed a logical extension of classroom learning to organizers, struck Berkeley College Republicans Treasurer Andrea Irvin as exploiting the children for their parents' political beliefs.

"It is incredible that these parents are using their children to advance their political agendas," she said. "That these teachers are indoctrinating the young children is unconscionable. They are using the kids as puppets."

Mayor Dean said she didn't think the rally was exploitive though. She said the kids instinctively know about solving conflicts. "They know the best way to do it is to talk things out," she said.

The rally ended after an hour with students ringing the peace bell and then marching back to their schools waving their signs.

Used with permission of The California Patriot.