Almost a thousand antiwar protesters marched through UCSB Wednesday as part of a national student peace rally.
Between 900 and 1,000 students, staff and faculty members skipped classes and marched from the Arbor to Storke Plaza on Wednesday in protest of a possible war against Iraq. The protest was part of a series of “Books Not Bombs” antiwar rallies held on campuses across the nation. Event organizers are trying to persuade the Bush administration not to declare war against Iraq for violations of United Nations sanctions since the end of the Gulf War.
“The timing of this event is actually going to help us draw a big crowd,” sophomore biology major Katie Maynard, who helped coordinate the protest, said. “It’s right before a major decision is made by the Bush administration, so it has more immediacy for people.”
The rally was organized by the Student Coalition for Peace, a recently formed group created to unite different antiwar groups on campus. The group only had two weeks to plan the walkout, march, rally, workshops and concert that were part of the demonstration.
“The organizers of the coalition have put in long hours for the past few weeks to make this happen, Kristen Ditlevsen, sophomore sociology major and Student Coalition for Peace member, told the Nexus Monday. “They are really passionate about this cause and want all sides to be presented.”
The march was organized as a voluntary walkout, in which students and teachers were asked to skip or cancel classes in protest of war. The size of the crowd surprised organizers who thought it would be relatively small, like previous campus demonstrations.
“The crowd is much larger than we expected. We were hopeful the crowd would be big, but we based our estimates on previous campus demonstrations that weren’t that big,” Maynard said.
UCSB staff member Elizabeth Colon, a medical secretary at Student Health, said she marched in support of peace and to promote an end to sanctions in Iraq.
“I want to be out here before we have to start counting the body bags,” Colon said.
While most expressed themselves vocally, a few demonstrators made a point to express their views on war visually. One student wore a neon green dress and blue wig with a sash stating “Slut for Peace,” and Jim Grippo, a graduate student studying ethnomusicology, could be heard all over campus playing his mizmar, an Egyptian double reed instrument. Senior college of creative studies sculpture major Loie Hollowell wore a white hoop-skirted dress, which she asked people to sign in protest of the war.
“I wanted to express myself through art,” she said. “I know I love art, and I know I hate war, and I wanted to put them together.”
Most protesters spoke out against any possible war in Iraq and other foreign policies supported by the Bush administration.
“It’s ridiculous how the U.S. is demanding Iraq get rid of their arms when we won’t get rid of our arms,” freshman creative studies major Jennifer Chavez said. “I mean, it’s not like Saddam is a peaceful ruler, but we shouldn’t be fighting under the misnomer of a war on terrorism. A war on terrorism is kind of an oxymoron, just like how fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity.”
The Unexpected Visitors
At approximately 11:45 a.m. the crowd marched from the Arbor, past Girvetz Hall and the Women’s Center, and circled Storke Plaza twice before flowing into the Plaza, which was scheduled to host an Inter-Fraternal Council concert at noon. The rally was supposed to be held at the Women’s Center, but the crowd refused the leave the Plaza.
After third year political science major and Inter-Fraternal Council President Josh Feinstein allowed demonstrators to use the microphones that had been brought for the concert, demonstration organizers held the rally in the plaza due to the size of the crowd. The fraternity event took place after rally goers dispersed at about 1 p.m.
“They pretty much surrounded us,” Feinstein said. “I told them it was absolutely OK as long as the band was cool with it.”
Blue Room, the band scheduled to play in the plaza, was doing sound checks when the plaza filled with protesters. The band decided to go with the flow, playing while the protestors clapped along. They gave up the use of the sound equipment reserved for their use until the rally was over.
“It was a really pleasant surprise; it’s great that there is so much support [for the protest] going on,” Steve Templeton, lead guitarist for Blue Room, said.
Sociology Professor Dick Flacks began the rally by speaking to the crowd from the band’s microphone.
“The New York Times recently said that there are two world superpowers – the United States government and the people of the world,” he said. “Some people are saying that this war is inevitable, but there is another force out there going against it.”
Women’s Studies Professor Eileen Boris also addressed the crowd, in a bright pink ensemble, calling for peace and the impeachment of President George W. Bush.
“I’m wearing pink. We once were told as women ‘to think pink.’ Now we’re saying to the Bush administration that you may say it’s an orange or yellow alert; we’re declaring it a code pink,” she said. “Let’s give [the Bush administration] a pink slip.”
Not Exactly Antiwar
Despite the largely unified antiwar crowd, several students stood at the fringe of the gathering with posters supporting a U.S.-led war against Iraq. Junior molecular biology major Maia Budnero, freshman political science major Alon Sachar – a self-described Democrat – and six friends held posters reading “peace is 12 years and 16 U.N. resolutions too late,” “liberate Iraq” and “support our troops.” One wore a shirt stating: “I’m staying in class.”
“The left is always the first to complain but the last to do anything about it,” Sachar said. “We’re out here to combat the antiwar protest because we believe that a war would liberate the Iraqi people. Saddam Hussein has been the biggest killer of Muslims, killing more than 1.3 million of them. We don’t want Iraq to turn into another North Korea.”
Budnero said her presence at the rally was meant to show that there was another side to the protest.
“We just want students to remember that while they’re allowed to protest and have the right to do that, in Baghdad they would get their tongues cut out,” she said. “Lots of people came up to us to give us support while we were marching.”
Budnero and Sachar were joined by several antiwar demonstrators who debated them for at least three hours after the rally. Several antiwar marchers said they were offended by the pro-war signs.
“They are here because they think the rally demoralized the U.S. soldiers,” Sharon Hoshida, Women’s Center project director, said of the pro-war demonstrators. “I think we need to bring the troops home whole. Not in body bags.”
Two marines that were recruiting outside the UCen were left in an awkward position when the antiwar rally began in Storke Plaza, but said they were not harassed.
“They have the right to [protest]. I joined the military to defend the United States and right to free speech. It is their constitutional right,” U.S. Marine Capt. Dirkes said. “I would hate to be in a country without free speech.”
Not everyone came to the rally with an agenda, however. Some people came just to see the spectacle.
“I came because I heard there was going to be a lot of pot-smoking hippies,” junior film studies major Paul Mathus said.
After the rally, protesters dispersed to a series of workshops on war-related issues that lasted throughout the day. One workshop, “How does protest matter?” – led by Sociology Professor Richard Flacks – filled the UCen State Street room. Flacks gave a history of U.S. student activism, beginning with the anti-Vietnam War teach-ins that began at the University of Michigan in 1965.
“I still can’t believe the human race tolerates governments claiming the right to use young people to kill other young people.”
Flacks said the level of activism of today’s students ranks far below the levels of Vietnam War era, Jimmy Carter’s reinstatement of the draft in 1979 and the original Gulf War.
“The students have had a relatively low profile at recent local events,” he said. “Until today, I was wondering, ‘Where are the students?'”
Other issues discussed in workshops included the draft, combat veterans’ perspectives on war and environmental consequences of war.
The “Books Not Bombs” protest ended with a peace concert at Anisq’ Oyo’ Park in Isla Vista from 5 to 9 p.m. Local bands Idiot Savant, Falsehood and Blue Room played to a modest crowd and speeches, poetry and other forms of expression were also performed.