Sunday, May 26, 2024

 Eighteen-month-old walks for peace in Harvard Yard linked yesterday with a national antiwar effort and escalated into a student walkout, drawing high school students risking suspension and activists from as far away as Bridgewater.

Students expressed their objections to the war with the beating of drums, antiwar chants, raps and speeches. Afterward, the roughly 150 people marched in silence around the perimeter of the yard, many then heading off to another demonstration scheduled for 2 p.m. on Boston Common.

“Number one, we want peace in Iraq, and we want it as fast as we can possibly get it, and No. 2, we do not want those responsible to escape unscathed. They are to be held accountable,” said the Rev. Peter J. Gomes, of the Memorial Church at Harvard University. “Harvard should stand on the side of justice, and it would be nice for once to be in front, rather then in the back.”

The organizer of the regular walks, Harvard University employee Steven B. Bloomfield, clarified that although “we’ve been trying to wake up the university for 18 months, it’s not the university per se, it’s members of the Harvard community.”

Since starting after the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq, Bloomfield’s group has met every Wednesday, rain or shine, to launch their walk from the yard’s statue of John Harvard. The numbers have risen and fallen with people’s availability and the weather, he said, but yesterday “was good. We had a good group.”

Many were students acting as part of Youth Against War and Racism’s National Student Walkout Against Bush’s War. It was intended to be held on the anniversary of the reelection of President Bush, which coincided with Bloomfield’s walk yesterday. It also meant at least the potential for suspension for the numerous Cambridge Rindge & Latin School students who showed up to walk silently — then headed off to be raucous at the Boston follow-up.

“I’m amazed at the courage of the high school kids,” said Helen Snively, a regular participant in the Wednesday walks.

Students said they felt they were being lied to about what is going on in Iraq — that the information they get is censored to convince them everything is all right and in reality is not — as well as a grab-bag of concerns such the environmental impact of industry and the war, the socio-economic ramifications of the Bush administration and how the war is affecting women here and in Iraq.

Student speaker Ramsey Woodcock, a member of the Harvard Law School’s Students for Peace, said that when students speak about the war in Iraq, they also express concern about “what will happen to the Iraqi people if U.S. troops pull out.” Loss of control seems to be the main issue, Woodcock said, “but losing control is just what freedom for Iraq means. It means they determine their lives, we don’t determine their lives.”

As much concern as he felt from them during the walkout, Bloomfield knows many of the participants won’t be back next week — at least the students who will return to their courses. But he says he and other regulars of the walk will be there “until the troops come home, and we expect that to be a long time.

“No one enjoys doing it, but we feel a responsibility,” he said. “And we urge the people of Cambridge to come join us. It’s the right thing to do.”

Marc Levy contributed to this report.