Thousands of high school and college students around California and the nation walked out of classes Wednesday to protest a possible war with Iraq, joining religious figures and others in coordinated peace rallies, teach-ins and strikes.
Holding signs such as "War on Iraq -- Are You on Crack?" and wearing black armbands stenciled with white peace signs, about 50 students staked out a patio at Chapman University's Argyros Forum for seven hours.
"We want to send the message that a war in Iraq would only create more problems in the world," said Troy Pickard, one of the Chapman rally's organizers. The peace studies major said he supported continuing weapons inspections, international diplomatic pressure and working with the Iraqis to democratize the country.
At noon, Dominic DeLay, a 40-year-old graduate film student and Dominican friar, led the group in a moment of silence. They wore duct tape over their mouths, Pickard said, to protest the stifling of dissent about the war and to express respect for possible military and civilian casualties.
DeLay, whose forehead was marked with ashes in the form of a peace sign, said he thought it was "cool" that the rally coincided with Ash Wednesday. "Lent is a season when you turn away from sin and do good in the world," he said. "It's a season when the whole country could turn away from violence and war."
Adjunct professor Peggy Hesketh, who protested against the Vietnam War when she was a student, brought essays from her English 104 class with her to grade during the protest.
"I talk to my students about making informed decisions about everything ... and reconciling conscience and social pressure," said Hesketh, a literature and composition teacher.
"If you talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. This is where my conscience told me to be."
Not everyone agreed. Sophomore Erica Moreno, whose Marine father left for Kuwait three weeks ago, said the rally angered her because it endangers American troops abroad.
"If Saddam Hussein sees that we're not supporting our president, he's not going to hold back," she said.
Many students just walked by the rally.
"I support what they're doing, but I don't think I physically need to be there to support it," said Leila Morinaga, 20. "Maybe they think that more people will change opinions, but my being there will not change the situation with Iraq."
Students elsewhere protested by dancing to hip-hop music, engaging in poetry slams, listening to speakers and holding marches on campuses stretching from Beverly Hills High School to UC Berkeley and beyond. As many as 800 students showed up for a rally at UCLA, and about 250 people protested on the steps of the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles.
The demonstrations were mostly peaceful, police said. But 19 people, including five members of the clergy, were arrested for failure to disperse after they blocked a busy downtown Los Angeles intersection during rush hour, police said.
And five students from Canoga Park High School were arrested on suspicion of looting a mini-mart after they broke off from an antiwar march near the school, authorities said.
At Stanford University, dozens of professors implicitly endorsed the rallies, canceling classes or telling students there would be no penalties for absences.
"We're trying to save our country and planet from being ruined by the short-sighted policies of the Bush administration," said Amanda Crater, a UC Berkeley junior who walked out of a dance class to join the campus protest, which drew several hundred.
"We're really trying to slow down and, with luck, stop this drive toward war."
At UCLA, hundreds of students walked out of classes at 11:15 a.m., converging near the student union on the Westwood campus for a rally that featured music, bongo drums and chants of "Drop Bush, not bombs."
Los Angeles Unified School District officials said 2,500 to 3,000 students took part in walkouts or rallies at 15 high schools and at least one middle school.
Although most were peaceful, a few adult protesters showed up at a rally at San Fernando High School and threw rocks after yelling at students to join the protest. No one was hurt, according to school district police spokesman P.J. Webb.
The majority of those protesting were students taking part in "Books Not Bombs" activities coordinated by the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition, an organization of 15 student groups that came together after the attacks of Sept. 11.
Many students said they were concerned that the war would take money from education.
Organizers said tens of thousands of students at more than 300 colleges and high schools nationwide had pledged to join the rallies, but attendance was lower than expected at some campuses.
In some cases, small counter-demonstrations were held.
Times staff writers Larry Stammer, Karima Haynes, Sandra Murillo, Denise Bonilla and Rebecca Trounson and correspondent Jessica Scully contributed to this report.