Jan Hettich had not been to a political protest since his undergraduate days at University of California-Berkeley during the late 1960s. But now as graduate student at Berkeley, the 37-year-old Hettich, like thousands of college students across the country, has taken to the streets to demonstrate opposition to American involvement in the war against Iraq. The demonstrations, which began after the initial deployment of U.S. forces to Saudi Arabia last August, grew in size and number as the United Nations deadline approached, reaching a zenith when the U.S. and allied bombing of Iraq began last week. Hettich, like several protesters across the country, said last week that he wanted to do his part to show the country that not everyone supported the war. "I just got so incensed that President Bush was taking this country down the road to war, as if it was inevitable, that I decided to take whatever action I could to try to stop it before it started," Hettich said. Many student protesters said that their opposition to President Bush's policy had nothing to do with patriotism or support of the troops stationed in the Persian Gulf. "We are not against our troops, we want to bring them home," Stanford graduate student Kate Morris said last week. "Bush is not God. He can make mistakes. He made a big one here." Schools with traditions of liberal activism like Berkeley have been the sites of staunch opposition and large protests against the war. But even at schools not known for such peace activism, protesters have organized visible opposition to the war effort. And across the country, students are employing creative means to express their views on the war. At Oberlin College in Ohio, a group of students called Students for Dialogue constructed a "pre-war memorial" last November on which they recorded the names of the American servicemen killed in accidents and military maneuvers in the Gulf. According to project organizer John McKiernen-Gonzales, the sculpture, which is over thirty feet long and eight feet tall, consists of a semi-circular steel wall as well as a series of plexiglass panels with information about the crisis. "Hopefully, the memorial will allow for meaningful and empowering dialogue on the war," McKiernen-Gonzales said last week. Students at Stanford University converged last Tuesday on the center of campus and built a mock cemetery to commemorate fallen U.S. troops According to graduate student Morris, students placed white bags bearing the names of dead and wounded soldiers on bamboo shoots and arranged them on the grass at the Oval, in the heart of the Stanford campus. At Dartmouth College earlier this month, members of Voices for Peace placed 97 black body bags next to each other on the snow-covered Green to represent the fallen soldiers. In addition, students painted on a black wall the names of the 97 American servicemen who had died in the Persian Gulf. At Berkeley, hundreds of students stopped traffic on Interstate 80 for about 45 minutes last Monday night when they sat down in the lanes of the freeway. Hettich added that he organized a candlelight vigil for earlier that evening, after which nearly 1,000 students and residents marched two miles to the freeway and walked up the entrance ramp. No one was injured in the protest and motorists patiently waited until police could clear the roadway, Hettich said. And at the University of Notre Dame last December, students created a human billboard on busy South Bend Street to show their opposition to American involvement in the Middle East. According to Kelley Tuthill, the news editor of the Notre Dame Observer, participants each held different signs, which, when read together, displayed a rather morbid message: "Here's to holiday cheer, a peaceful new year. Bring our troops back, but not in a sack." Despite their varying methods, the aims that many protest organizers have emphasized are essentially the same -- to inform students about all the issues related to the events in the Gulf. Organizers at many campuses are sponsoring teach-ins so that students get the opportunity to discuss with professors and other experts their questions and concerns about a region very foreign to many Americans. Special emphasis is often placed on the delicate relationship between Israel and the Arab nations surrounding it. "All of a sudden there are all these people who want to find out what's going on," said Stanford graduate student Morris. "People really have a lot of catching up to do." At the University of Michigan, a twelve-hour teach-in last week drew between three and five thousand students, according to Michigan student David Levin. Hettich hopes for similar success tomorrow when a teach-in is planned for Berkeley students on their first day back from winter break. Students at Muhlenberg College, about 50 miles north of Philadelphia, have found unusual support from their administration for Middle East education. Administrators cancelled all classes last Wednesday at the college and provided $20,000 to pay for speakers at a day-long series of informational workshops and lectures. Although faculty members have backed teach-ins at a few schools like Michigan, the support that the administration is granting at Muhlenberg is quite rare. The brainchild of student Andrew Curtis, the Muhlenberg program featured sessions devoted to the economics and politics of oil, the history of the Middle East, the role of the media in providing information to the American public, and the status of Arab-Israeli relations. In order to make an objective presentation, Curtis said speakers were drawn from such groups as Amnesty International and the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. "We wanted to appeal more to an intellectual rather than emotional reaction," Curtis said. "Everybody gained something." He added that students responded enthusiastically, saying that almost half of the college's 1,600 students attended the day's first session at 8 a.m. Organized support of the war has been comparatively quiet on most campuses, although protest organizers concede that President Bush does have substantial backing. "By no means is everybody against what Bush is doing," said Notre Dame's Tuthill. "But who's going to come out and have a pro-war demonstration?"Comments powered by Disqus
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