Working in a fairly liberal independent high school shelters me from the kind of close-mindedness endemic to some large public schools, like Cocoa Beach Jr/Sr High in Florida.
At that school, a group of students are being heckled, threatened and insulted for wearing peace T-shirts every Thursday. It’s a reactionary backlash reminiscent of the ’60s anti-war protests.
Sophomore Skylar Stains (front row, right) and a friend decided to wear peace shirts every Thursday to school. Within a short time, they had 30 other students in their ad hoc Peace Shirt Coalition. Then things got ugly.
Group member Lauren Lorraine told Florida Today that students started approaching the group members, yelling obscene things at them.
“People just turned on us like that,” she said. “At least 10 boys stood up and yelled things at me at once, and we couldn’t even walk through the halls without a harsh comment being made.”
Signs they put up on their lockers promoting peace were defaced with swastikas and white-power slogans, covered up with pro-Bush or pro-war signs, or just torn down. One group of students has taken to wearing the Confederate flag shirts to show their support for the troops in Iraq.
From Florida Today:
Uh, right. Sorry, kids, I don’t see the connection between the Confederate flag and Iraq. Different war, different context. As for the racism thing, all I can say is, these kids must have been raised in a cultural vacuum.
Wait, this is Florida. Never mind, I get it.
The T-shirt wearing was innocent enough, and if their fellow students had reacted more thoughtfully, no one outside of Cocoa Beach would have heard about the coalition. The backlash has made it political — and surprisingly public.
The story has been digged and made it to The Daily Kos. Kids and adults are leaving all kinds of comments, both thoughtful and obscene, on the Florida Today phpBB site. The girls have also created a MySpace page that has also had a lot of activity. From all appearances, they are not caving in to the backlash. In fact, they may be learning more than they ever anticipated about public discourse and political statements.
Those of us of a certain age remember the Vietnam War and the protests against it. Back then, as now, suggesting that peace is better than war was for some non-thinkers an un-American statement. Peace rallies became violent when the pro-war factions clashed with the peaceniks.
The Iraq war is no different. Too many people have swallowed the administration’s justification for invading the country hook, line and sinker, despite mounting evidence that the invasion had nothing to do with fighting terrorism or 9/11 for that matter. As in the ’60s, suggesting that Iraq was a mistake, and that war in general is wrong, is fodder for some knotheads (W included) to equate skepticism with terrorism and pacifism with cowardice or weakmindedness.
Whatever their original motivation, the members of the Peace Shirt Coalition of Cocoa Beach High should be applauded for their willingness to withstand the idiotic behavior of their peers, and the inability of a high school administration to cope with the raw emotions their peace shirts have engendered.
Being a pacifist is harder than not being one. Ask any Quaker.