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Seventeen-year-old Boulder High School student Travis Moe
admits that most teenagers his age just want to get drunk and get laid.

“I have been really cynical lately,” said Moe, a dreadlocked
senior who wears flip-flops in blizzards. “No one talks about politics
or the world.”

He did, however, find some peers who were concerned about their
futures, particularly under the Bush administration. So, when dissenters across
the nation were protesting President Bush’s re-election, Moe and fellow members
of the 10-student-strong activist group Student Worker held a rally/sleep-in
in Boulder High School’s library on November 4 to oppose Bush’s policies, the
national debt, military recruitment in schools, disregard for the environment
and, more importantly, to prove to the nation that they weren’t just a bunch
of horny teenagers. “I just needed some affirmation that school wasn’t
as apathetic as I thought it was,” said Moe.

It also became a call to arms for students across the country.

“The youth around the country need to know that their futures
are being betrayed,” said 17-year-old Cameron Ely-Murdock, who helped organize
the sleep-in. “If we don’t voice our opinions it won’t stop. We really
want people to understand that we can’t just accept the fact that the world
thinks we are apathetic youth. If you have a problem with the government, you
need to do something about it. We agree that Bush sucks, but we aren’t doing
anything about it.”

A lot of planning went into the sleep-in. On November 3, Student
Worker members called various cliques, looked up Colorado state codes, began
writing speeches, prepared to meet with the administration, and made shirts
and signs. They talked on the phone with members’ fathers who were lawyers to
find out their legal rights as well as the school’s, and wrote up a list of
concerns, which included the war in Iraq and the possibility of a future draft.

And of course, they called their parents.

“My mom was nervous,” said Moe, who played Bender, the
rebel played by Judd Nelson, in the school’s version of The Breakfast Club.
“She respects me as an independent individual, but she didn’t think much
good would come out of it. She thought I would get suspended. I told her it
would be a moral stance. She was so proud.”

The November 4 protest, which started after classes finished at
3:15 p.m. on Thursday, drew more than 80 of Boulder High’s 2,000 students, who
bunked down for the night with the blessing of the school principal, Ron Cabrera,
who originally wanted them out of the library by 5 p.m. Cabrera relented after
the students agreed to clean up and attend first-period classes the following
morning.

“I was surprised when the principal allowed the protest,”
said Ely-Murdock. “Even a bit disappointed. It kind of ruined the whole
idea of ‘sticking it to the man,’ but I think we ended up getting more media
attention because of it.”

Several “peace” flags hung from the bookshelves in the
library. On the wall, crooked black markings read, “We are the generation
that will have to take on and suffer from the burden.” Under the supervision
of parents and teachers, the students, who ranged from modern-day hippies adorned
in beanies and hemp necklaces, to leather-jacket-clad punk rockers, to conservatively
dressed Democrats, sat on the floor and on tables, laughing, shaking maracas,
playing the guitar and patting drums. One student, Brian Martens, wore ’70s-style
sunglasses and a hand-lettered T-shirt proclaiming him the “senior executive
of the subcommittee on protesting stuff.”

“We even had some of the mainstream self-proclaimed ‘popular’
students showing up,” said Moe, but, “We didn’t get the jocks or cheerleaders.”

The students read speeches by Martin Luther King and sang Beatles
songs like “Give Peace a Chance,” while organizers called the press
and local pols like Congressman Mark Udall (D–Eldorado Springs) and newly elected
Democratic Senator Ken Salazar. Meanwhile, a New Yorker, after seeing the sleep-in
on the national news, ordered the students two pepperoni pizzas and a cheese
pizza from the pizza joint across the street. He said they looked hungry.

 

With Moe at the helm, Student Worker has in the past voiced
its concerns about standardized statewide student-assessment testing and the
U.S. Marines’ setting up a recruitment table in the school library. However,
the sleep-in was the group’s first foray at activism in years.

“I am the hippie. I am the protester. I am the actor and
filmmaker. People have high expectations of me,” said Moe, explaining why
he led the sleep-in. “But, outside of Boulder, we would most likely have
bricks thrown through our windows and graffiti smeared across my car.”

Cabrera agreed. “These kids have more of a political bent,”
he said. “Kids in Boulder have a little more knowledge of politics. I received
messages wondering why kids were doing these types of things. ‘Who is in charge
here?’ That type of question. They clearly didn’t know the thinking that went
into this and how they planned it. The media envisioned it as a ‘Hell No We
Won’t Go,’ but it was very cooperative on both sides.”

Boulder has long been known as the most liberal city in Colorado
and is often referred to as “the Republic of Boulder.” In 1999, two
Boulder High students founded Student Worker after participating in the World
Trade Organization protests/riots in Seattle. In 2001, Student Worker and Boulder
High’s Gay-Straight Alliance staged a same-sex “kiss-in” after a photograph
of two girls kissing was pulled from the Boulder High School yearbook. About
150 gay, lesbian, bisexual and straight students gathered in support of the
dozen kiss-in participants. Two years later, the group along with students from
other high schools went to the state capital to protest statewide testing. Student
Worker later dissolved after key members graduated, but Moe resurrected it last
year.

On November 11, a week after the sleep-in, Boulder High students
hit the news again when Secret Service agents visited the school after students
and parents somewhat hysterically complained that a band calling themselves
the Taliban had plans to perform Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” at a
talent show scheduled for November 12. The rumor was that the song would be
amended with lyrics threatening President Bush. Two Secret Service agents questioned
the principal for 20 minutes and took a copy of the song’s lyrics. Cabrera said
the band originally had plans to call itself the Tali-banned but changed the
name to the Coalition of the Willing after administrators told band members
the name was offensive. He also said the students never had plans to change
the song’s lyrics.

“I don’t know if this is a case of sour grapes because someone
didn’t make it into the talent show,” said Cabrera. “I certainly thought
it was ridiculous. I was surprised that someone would move to that place where
they would think that there was violence being propagated at Boulder High School.”

Cabrera said he received over 150 voice mails concerning the alleged
lyric manipulation, some calling for his resignation.

“I should be fired. The kids should be suspended,” he
said. “It was disrespectful. Those were all the types of negative calls
I got. The kids at the talent show that were unfairly admonished deserved to
get the protection they deserved. There was nothing wrong with singing the Bob
Dylan song.”

 

With peace symbols still smudged on their cheeks and foreheads,
16 of the students packed into Cabrera’s office to speak to Udall and Boulder
County Republican Party Vice-Chairman Bill Eckert the morning after their sleep-in.
Dozens of media outlets including MSNBC and Associated Press reported on the
scene. Michael Moore mentioned the students in his column, and a Hollywood production
company has plans to film a documentary about the students.

“I really hope the media grabs onto this and spreads it for
us,” said Ely-Murdock. “I can’t think of any other way. We can’t hardly
drive around in a fleet of school buses and yell at students. It is impractical.”

The sleep-in also garnered support from their peers around the
country. High school students in New Mexico invited Student Worker to travel
to their school and show them how to stage a peaceful protest. Another school
asked them to design a how-to pamphlet, a project Moe said he will take on.

Since the sleep-in, Moe and fellow members of Student Worker have
been busy, taking on issues beyond the recent elections. The group recently
organized a concert featuring four high-school-age bands that raised $500 for
a local battered-women's shelter. After that, it came out en force to participate
in a protest against Wal-Mart’s construction of a superstore in Teotihuacan,
Mexico, less than a mile from ancient pyramids. Moe says the group next plans
to print the names of all the soldiers killed in Iraq on small American flags
and plant them on the school’s front lawn. “Maybe spelling out, ‘For what?’”
said Moe.

“You always have the power to make an opinion known,”
said Moe. “I am overcome with optimism and I see that change is possible
in the government. The government is moving backwards. That is the opposite
of progress and people are getting restless enough that a revolution is possible.
If we can get rid of that fear and understand that change is possible and change
is desired, I believe we can change the country for the better.”

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