J.S. Irick, shivering in only his underwear, chained himself to a flagpole and smeared his body with red paint to represent blood. Scores flung themselves on the student union floor to dramatize the innocent Iraqis they say will die if the United States invades that country. More than 1,000 others skipped classes and trekked through several inches of snow this afternoon for an antiwar "teach-in" at the University of Chicago's Rockefeller chapel.
The acts of defiance on this campus were part of a coast-to-coast effort in which thousands of high school and college students cut class, read poetry, performed skits and played loud rock music to try to halt what they view as an irrational march toward war in Iraq.
More than 300 high schools and colleges participated in the protest, characterized as a national student strike. Thousands of students in Britain, Sweden, Spain and Australia rallied in solidarity with their counterparts in the United States, who wanted to highlight the effects of war on domestic issues, including education, health care and the economy.
Many, like Irick, argued that spending billions to wage war will result in deaths and do little to enhance U.S. security. "I like feeling and sleeping safe as much as anyone else," said Irick, 21, a junior computer science major. "But what we're doing isn't helping that. I'm just trying to get people thinking."
Officially called the "Books Not Bombs" protest, the effort was coordinated by the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition, which includes 15 student groups that joined forces after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Unlike antiwar rallies last month in Washington and Europe that drew hundreds of thousands in a single place, this event was intentionally more diffused, with small events at colleges and high schools.
Events at the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of Colorado and the University of Wisconsin drew more than a 1,000, according to school officials. Others drew sparse crowds. At the University of Texas at Austin, for instance,100 people attended. A protest at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas drew about 25 to 30. Fewer than expected turned out at the University of California at Berkeley, where about 500 students marched on campus and made demands upon Berkeley's administration.
"Every university around the country went into their rallies with a demand for their administration," junior Amanda Crater said.
"Ours was that the chancellor take an antiwar stance and at least give attention to our voices, because all over the world right now, protesters are just being ignored by the president."
Regardless of numbers, the message was that a war with Iraq has few positives.
"The money for the war is being taken from domestic priorities," said Shaunda Wage, 23, who organized a rally at the University of Missouri at Kansas City that drew about 150 people. "Our governor just announced a huge cut for public schools, and tuition is going up next year."
At Evanston Township High School north of Chicago, about 1,000 teenagers circled the 3,600-pupil school in a march that lasted for one class period.
In the Washington area, about 800 students attended a sit-in at Northwestern High in Hyattsville. Principal William Ritter said students wanted to walk out but changed their plan when he allowed them to use the auditorium. An additional 200 students rallied at Howard University. "I have a test in Shakespeare," said Goldie Patrick, 20, a junior who skipped class. Organizers said the majority of those at the rally had cut class.
A demonstration at the University of Maryland at College Park drew 300. Students at Washington's American University wrote letters to President Bush, stuffing the envelopes with rice to urge his administration to feed, not bomb, Iraq. "This is a preemptive strike against a threat that still hasn't materialized," said sophomore Jared Hall, 19, who wrote Bush a letter.
At a nearby parking lot, students painted "No blood for oil" and other slogans on a white AU van.
But the defiance was not without consequences.
Eight students were suspended at a D.C. private school after an on-campus antiwar rally. When the rally was over at the Field School and students were asked to return to class, the eight left campus and were suspended for the day, school officials said.
Around noon, about 75 students at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia tried to protest in front of the school building. Administrators asked them to move off school grounds, but when the students tried to march across the street, they were sent back to school. Administrators took names as the students returned, a few minutes late for class.
Those who missed Michael Franz's political science class at the University of Wisconsin in Madison were told they would fail a scheduled midterm. As many as 2,000 people -- including hundreds of high school students -- attended the antiwar rally there. Provost Peter Spear said it was the largest rally since the Vietnam War. But Franz said failing the test was a lesson for those who skipped. "I think I was doing them a favor, because I gave them consequences for their actions," he said. "I said I absolutely would respect their decision to miss class, but I didn't think it was my place to comment about the issue in a class on American politics."
University of Chicago Professor Roger B. Myerson, who opposes the war, said protests are needed, because the policy of "going to war with no restraints is dangerous." While an undergraduate at Harvard, Myerson said he opposed the Vietnam War but disagreed with those who wanted to close the university. Everything, including protests and U.S. power, should have limits, he said.
Today's protests, which by all accounts were peaceful, left some unimpressed. "Kids on this campus will protest anything," said Justin Garrett, a sophomore at the University of Chicago who believes that Bush is right about Iraq. " I think the line needs to be drawn somewhere."
Staff writers Manny Fernandez, Ylan Q. Mui and Nancy Trejos and researcher Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report from Washington. Special correspondent Christine Lagorio contributed from Madison, Wis.