What began as a quiet gathering of students at Houston Hall to protest American involvement in the Persian Gulf soon became an angry, and at times confrontational, rally as close to 300 students marched through the campus and eventually into Center City. Beginning with reasoned speeches by organizers, the crowd quickly snowballed into a massive, impromptu rally of students making peace signs and imploring others to join their cause. The students marched through darkness and pouring rain across the campus, calling the war "morally hypocritical" and saying they were not willing to fight a war for oil while domestic issues were ignored. The crowd marched from Houston Hall to the Quad, Superblock, and President Hackney's House on the 3800 block of Walnut Street, then back down Locust Walk to College Green and Hill House before finally heading towards Center City. The assemblage finally ended up joining another group of city residents protesting at Independence Mall, at 6th and Market streets. While on campus, the protesters encountered some opposition from students who came out of dormitory rooms or fraternity houses to support U.S. action and troops. These confrontations were mostly peaceful, but some erupted into shouting matches on a few occasions. The meeting began at 7:30 p.m. with about 100 students gathering in Houston Hall. After discussing and debating ways to respond to the U.S. attack for about an hour, they voted to demand a stop in the war effort, a recall of all U.S. troops immediately and for government expenditures on "human needs" and not war. After voting to demand the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, calls for a march to the Liberty Bell filled the room. Within minutes, the crowd of activists stormed out of the room and onto Spruce Street, chanting, "Hell no, we won't go, we won't fight for Texaco." Walking through the pouring rain, the crowd marched across Spruce, stopping traffic, and through the lower Quad gate -- in defiance of the helpless security guard. As the protesters continued chanting, armed with bullhorns and anti-war posters, several pro-Bush bystanders jeered the crowd with cries of "Go back to Baghdad." The protesters largely ignored the hecklers who remained peaceful at all times. One protester shot back, "There's a plane at the airport." "Do you want to die?" another asked the hecklers. As the angry students crossed the 38th Street bridge to Superblock, they continued chanting and calling on High Rise residents to join their march. Shouting over the deafening crowd, College freshman Prakash Khenlani asserted "this is not a war to find a solution, it's a war to create war." After regrouping, the activists circled the High Rises, and assembled in front of President Sheldon Hackney's home, chanting, "Where do you stand?" Hackney was in New York at the time. Across Walnut Street, fraternity members from Acacia, Sigma Nu, and Sigma Alpha Mu yelled back "USA, USA . . . free Kuwait, free Kuwait." "The U.S. is definitely right for what it's done," Acacia junior Alex Mouray yelled angrily. "It's about time we got in and Iraq got out of Kuwait." The marchers quickly moved down Locust Walk toward Hill House, and again met students who disagreed with them. Theta Xi President Chris Ohl draped an American flag outside the fraternity house as soon as he heard news of the war. "I think everyone should have an American flag out," said Ohl, whose fraternity brothers held a moment of silence for those serving abroad. Phi Gamma Delta President David Murphy calmly explained, "We're [opposing protesters] to support our country." He insisted that he was speaking on his own behalf, and not that of the fraternity. The protesters halted on College Green, where College sophomore Amadee Braxton directed them toward City Hall. The students entered Hill House, but were challenged by an angry Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps sophomore Jonathan Held, who was restrained by a friend. Although some students dropped out of the group along the route, others joined in as they went along. With replenished ranks, the protesters proceeded east on Chestnut, linking hands. After crossing the Schuylkill River and moving into Center City, they asked local residents to join their cause and soon jammed the streets. City police monitored traffic on cross streets and followed the group of students with two paddy-wagons, but never moved in to interrupt the rally. "I don't want this war," College junior Elizabeth Wiggy said as they marched. "Bush didn't ask the people, he only asked himself." Psychology graduate student Barbara Gault agreed with Wiggy. "I don't support the war in the Middle East," she said. "The United States must get out as soon as possible. I'm very upset." As they approached 18th street, Robert Feorleger, who had been leading the crowd carrying a garbage bag, announced "I am a conscientious objector. I don't believe in war. Period." At ninth street, students met up with Loretta Desvernina, a member of Philadelphia's AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, who told the students 200 more protesters were already at Independence Mall and redirected them. "I'm here because the war began," she said. "It's an atrocity. We should be fighting the wars we have going on in this country." When the students arrived at Independence Mall, over 200 more protesters were on the green and across the streets, rallying as police and local television crews watched. One resident was clad in a gas mask and full body anti-chemical gear, saying it might some day become common attire. Creating a circle, the protesters linked hands and joined in chants, including, "Support our troops, bring them home," and "The people united can never be divided." In a show of both defiance and unity, the circle collapsed into a mob of protesters raising a large, altered American flag. The flag was hung upside-down and a peace sign had been painted over the stars. United Cab driver Michael Samara, who watched the rally from his taxi, said he agreed with the protesters. He said his brother is serving in Saudi Arabia with the Navy. "Honestly, I feel that we have the wrong president for this country," Samara said. "We're not supposed to fight for oil. I drive a taxi-cab and I would pay three dollars a gallon before I would want to see one life lost." The protesters planned another rally for today. They are scheduled to meet at the Christian Association building at 9 a.m. for an organizational meeting, then will rally at noon on College Green. A Center City march is planned for 3:30 p.m.Comments powered by Disqus
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