Street Smart Chicago

Boarding School: Five years is way too long

Essays & Commentary, Politics, South Loop Add comments

“Usually I’m the torturer, ” says 16-year-old Kristen Brooks. “This is the first time I’m being tortured.”

March 20, the five-year anniversary of the Iraq War. Brooks, a Mother McAuley High School student, is participating in a protest against waterboarding, the controversial interrogation technique that the Bush administration claims is within the limits of the Geneva conventions, but which many condemn as torture.

Taxis whiz down Wabash Avenue and art students with long hair and pin-covered book bags lounge on the ledges of Columbia College’s 623 building. On the sidewalk just outside the building’s entrance, the teenaged Brooks wears a bright orange jumpsuit and a black bag covers her head. She is bent backward over a wood pedestal. Two other protesters hold her down and thrust an empty water bucket over her mouth. Brooks gasps and sputters as if choking on water, while her tormenters shout, “What are you hiding!?” Afterward, Brooks describes the experience. “With the yelling and brutality, I feel so dehumanized.”

It is a brutal, gut-wrenching display, and the students witnessing it are silent. Nearby, another protester, Samantha Hamlin, shouts into a crackling loudspeaker, “What kind of society does this to other human beings? We have to stand up and say NO! We are not going to be complacent in torture!”

Brooks and Hamlin are a part of World Can’t Wait, a protest group that aims to derail the Bush administration’s policies and “mobilize millions to express their outrage and form an organized political resistance.” The group’s Chicago chapter is a large campaign; they usually protest on the streets at least once a week.

Today, World Can’t Wait has numerous protests happening around the South Loop that include a collaborative painting outside the campus’s U.S. army-recruitment center, as well as a reading of poetry written by Guantanamo Bay prisoners. But, by far, the largest crowd has gathered around Brooks and the waterboarding demonstration.

A few of the watching students snap pictures on their phones.

“I don’t want to be a part of the Me Generation,” says Brooks, in reference to the thought that today’s youth is too narcissistic and entitled to have any interest in world affairs. “So many people want change, but they don’t get involved. We’re a visual that you can show your voice and work together. We can make change in our government.” (Laura Hawbaker)

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