Four Corners is swamped with students holding signs and banging drums. Across Montgomery County thousands of kids walk out of class, trudging determinedly on through the rain and cold. Area sidewalks are covered with neat black body bags at a Bethesda die-in.
Tying together all these students is Students for Peace and Justice (SPJ), a student run group existing with the sole intent of organizing against the war in Iraq. SPJ's membership includes many Montgomery County schools.
Their website is innocuous enough. Idealism is rampant, headlines shouting ‘Walkout tomorrow!' ‘Anti-War Rally!' ‘Food not Bombs!' SPJ is not interested in reporting the news though. They're busy making it.
SPJ organized the Four Corners protest, the recent walkout, die-ins and several more rallies in the last year, including a short-notice action against Tom Ridge's Blair visit.
According to SGR President Cory Choy, SPJ is an extension of social activism groups across the county. SPJ consists of the leaders of SGR and similar clubs meeting to coordinate protests together. "[And] Blair's a huge part of [SPJ]," claims Choy.
Whereas SGR and similar clubs also work to feed the poor and clean up the environment, SPJ is focused intently on rallying youth support against war in Iraq and formed just this year for that purpose.
By pooling their resources and coordinating events together SPJ has gained power and respect. Because SPJ representatives are the captains of their own school's anti-war movements, the decisions they make impact the timing, planning and execution of events.
SPJ is gaining importance because local youth believe the best actions they can take to protest the war should be taken together. "The voice of one citizen has very little impact on this society. So I try to raise…develop the anti-war movement, get a lot more students involved," claims SGR member and SPJ leader Eugene Gavrilov.
The decisions SPJ makes are then implanted individually at each school. "Representatives coordinate how SPJ activities will be [undertaken] for [their] schools," according to SGR and SPJ member Maya Kosok.
SPJ, though powerful, does not threaten originally formed activist clubs. SGR has continued to operate as usual, only with their actions and policies occupied with protesting the war in Iraq. "SPJ and SGR are always in contact with each other. Blair SPJ representatives report to SGR what activities are on the table, [though] SGR naturally coordinates…stream clean-ups, feed the streets…but SPJ welcomes SGR members. SPJ is a growing organization," says SGR member Piper Hanson.
School rivalries don't matter to the many schools participating in SPJ: Blair, Springbrook, Richard Montgomery, Poolesville, Blake, Sherwood, Paint Branch, Kennedy, BCC, Edmund Burke, Wilson, School Without Walls, Washington International School and Sidwell Friends are all members.
Josh Gottlieb-Miller. More »