UNITED STATES: Students organise against war

Issue 

BY
ROHAN PEARCE

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the US rulers hoped that by
whipping up mass patriotism and fuelling fears of “terrorist” attacks,
they could finally overcome the “Vietnam syndrome”. However, evidence is
mounting, especially among young people, that anti-war consciousness in
the US is anything but dead.

Ever since the Vietnam War, US working people have been unwilling to
support protracted US military operations overseas, especially if there
is a likelihood of large numbers of military and civilian casualties.

The Vietnam syndrome also reflects the US population's realisation that
Washington had deceived them throughout the bloody Vietnam War by claiming
its imperialist aggression was being undertaken to defend “democracy” and
“human rights”.

US President George Bush and the right-wing warmongers who dominate
his administration seized the opportunity presented by 9/11 to move beyond
Washington's reliance on proxies to defend its interests around the world
— the dictators, kings, sheiks and every other variety of despot — and
directly pursue military action to fully realise Washington's hegemonic
economic and political designs. A “new American century” as the Bush gang's
leading lights openly proclaim.

Domestically, the 9/11 attacks gave further impetus to the US regime's
racist anti-immigrant offensive, while distracting the US population from
the misery created by decades of “Reaganomic” economic policies and mass
corporate corruption.

While there was seemingly a national consensus in support of the US
war against Afghanistan — which was sold as an offensive against the al
Qaeda terrorist network and its Taliban protectors — the second chapter
of the White House's “war on terror”, an attack on Iraq, is facing significant
opposition. The most dramatic illustration of this new anti-war movement
was the massive protests on October 26, which attracted 100,000 people
into the streets of Washington, 75,000 in San Francisco and thousands more
across the US.

This growth of anti-war sentiment is especially strong on university
campuses and at secondary schools. Young people are leading anti-war actions
and there is a growing on-campus movement against war.

On February 22-24, the National Student Anti-war Conference was held
at Columbia University. The conference was attended by more than 200 delegates,
elected from over 50 campuses. The conference established the National
Campus Anti-war Network (<http://www.antiwarnetwork.org>)
to coordinate national student protests.

Other student networks include the Student Peace Action Network and
the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition. The US student movement
continues to revive, largely sparked off by the anti-sweatshop campaigns
of the late 1990s. Campus activism picked up momentum from the Seattle
protests against the World Trade Organisation in 1999, and subsequent protests
targeting the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Students from highs schools and universities have been a visible, and
vocal, presence at most anti-war protests. Activist Dan La Botz reported
that at an October 7 protest in Cincinnati, Ohio, college students from
Miami University “carried a large, blue banner emblazoned with their opposition
to the war. Other students from Earlham College in southern Indiana, wearing
school sweatshirts and waving pom-poms danced and chanted, snaking their
way through the crowd. Others came up from universities in Lexington, Kentucky.

“The day of the march, a group of 15-year-old students distributed a
thousand leaflets to 2000 fellow students at Walnut Hills High School,
and students from many other Cincinnati schools were there shouting and
waving signs as well. Everywhere one looked were young people, groups of
African-American high school students, young people from the Muslim community
and other Middle Easterners, as well as a few Latinos, a relatively new
immigrant group in the area.”

On September 20, 5000 students marched at the University of California's
Berkeley campus as part of the “national day of student action for peace”,
in which around 150 university campuses took part.

On November 20, more than 2000 students walked out of class and took
part in an anti-war “youth day of action” in New York City, with the theme
“Not in our name”. The rally took over NYC's Broadway, one of the city's
busiest streets, chanting “They want us silent, they want us tame, this
war on Iraq is not in our name!” and “Tapping our phones, reading our mail,
the FBI should go to jail!”, referring to the government's recent attacks
on civil liberties.

One of the students told the militant demonstrators: “This goes out
to my principal who threatened me with suspension. Fuck you! You are not
in danger of being drafted. I am! And I am not going to sit in your fucking
school and be intimidated by you!”

City-wide walk-outs were held across the country, including in Chicago
and Philadelphia. Other protests occurred at the University of Wisconsin,
San Francisco State University, University of California Santa Cruz, University
of Oklahoma, City College of San Francisco, Santa Monica High School, as
well as other schools and universities.

On December 3, delegates from 32 campuses and high schools held an internet
meeting to discuss the next steps for the anti-war student movement. The
network, organised by a meeting of more than 300 students at George Washington
University after the October 26 protests, includes representatives from
Arizona, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, California,
Indiana and New England.

Students are planning a variety of protests for Human Rights Day on
December 10, including teach-ins, vigils and black arm-band days. The Chicago
Students Against War Network reported that they intend to hold a national
anti-war conference, possibly in early January.

Another important focus for anti-war mobilising will be the national
march, rally and people's peace conference in Washington, on the January
18 Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. A mass rally and march will
also take place in San Francisco.

The call for the January protests was issued by the Act Now to Stop
War and End Racism coalition at the October 26 rallies. More than 2000
organisations and prominent individuals have endorsed the actions. Recent
endorsers include Reverend Jesse Jackson senior and the Not In Our Name
anti-war coalition. More than 100 organising centres in 29 states are preparing
for the actions.

In Canada, students are also organising to defeat the war drive. The
call for a Pan-Canadian student anti-war conference, to be held from January
30 to February 2 at the University of Toronto, notes: “In Canada and Quebec,
anti-war coalitions are springing up on almost every campus with students
building both their own campus anti-war actions and the January 18 North
American day of action against war on Iraq. More recently, thousands of
students just participated in the pan-Canadian day of action against war
in Iraq on November 16-17 which mobilised 35,000 people in Canada and Quebec.

“At a recent teach-in at the University of Toronto, students from 15
universities, colleges and high schools took part in a discussion called
'Students against war: Building an anti-war movement on the campuses'.
A consensus emerged that it is not only possible, but also necessary to
begin building an anti-war movement among students all across the country.”

Meanwhile, an opinion poll released by the University of Maryland's
Program on International Policy Attitudes on December 3 has found that
55% of Americans would oppose a US attack on Iraq if it was not endorsed
by the UN Security Council. Even if the UN endorsed military action, 49%
preferred measures that fall short of a full-scale invasion.

Similarly, a November 22-24 Gallop poll asked respondents to “suppose
Iraq does not comply with the UN resolution”. In that case, only 33% said
the US should “begin military action immediately” and 64% said the US should
“go back to the UN for authorisation to take military action”.

From Green Left Weekly, December 11, 2002.

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