Folks often ask, rather cynically, where are the students protesting the war? Well, the answer is that they are there -- on their campuses and in the dorms -- organizing speakers, rallies and teach-ins. The fact that folks off campus do not hear about these events does not mean that they aren't occurring. What it does mean is that the media is choosing not to cover them. Here in Asheville, NC, the local SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) linked group at University of North Carolina-Asheville (UNCA) organized a counter-recruitment protest in January 2006, a walkout and march against the war last October and is now actively involved in getting students to go to the March 17th March on the Pentagon. At UNC's Chapel Hill campus, six students were arrested on February 17, 2007 after refusing to leave Congressman David Priceís office in a protest demanding that he vote against further war funding. Meanwhile, on February 15th, students at campuses around the country held rallies and teach-ins against the war. While the movement has not reached the proportions organizers want to see, it is growing. The next student day of protest is scheduled for March 20th -- three days after the March on the Pentagon. I recently connected with UNCA SDS member Kati Ketz over email. Besides her activities here in Asheville, Kati is also a spokesperson for the SDS call for the March 20th Day of Action Against the War. The exchange with Kati was an opportunity for me to learn what antiwar students have been up to and how they see the future. I share the transcript below.
First, what is the March 20th Day of Action? How did the idea originate?
hope that this day of action will be a catalyst for students to rise up
and get organized against the war in Iraq. Four years is four years too
many, and itís time that students in this country get organized against
this war. In Asheville, we hope that our actions will draw in more people
who want to get more involved in organizing against the war. We also hope
that our actions contribute to building a grassroots student anti-war
movement. Nationally, we hope that this will help build ties with other
campuses and connect different movements together in order to work towards
ending this war.
KK:I think it is very significant that a lot of schools from the south are organizing against the war. It goes against the stigma that the south is normally faced with -- that all anti-war organizing happens in the north and that the southern US is largely ignorant of and not involved in any progressive movements. There is some exciting organizing going on in the south -- for example, UNC SDS took part in organizing a demonstration against John Ashcroft, who came to speak at their campus. Members of both Alabama and Asheville SDS groups also have participated in a lot of events (MLK day marches, a 4th of July march in New Orleans) concerning race and national oppression, since that is something that is especially relevant to us in the south.
Itís amazing to see that, for March 20th,
the schools signing on to the call are from all over the United States --
from North Carolina and Alabama in the south to Los Angeles and Santa
Barbara in the West to New York City and Boston in the northeast to
Minneapolis, Chicago, and Ohio in the Midwest, to name a few.
KK: The main campaign that SDS is involved with is working against the war in Iraq, but SDS is a multi-issue progressive organization. In Asheville, we had a week of action around Palestine, where we built a 45-foot long, 8-foot tall mock apartheid wall on our campus and hosted teach-ins and showed a documentary about the situation in Palestine. There have been student strikes and marches for immigrantsí rights in conjunction with the May 1st demonstrations. UCLA SDS worked with UCLA's Moviemento Estudantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA) to organize a demonstration against a speaker from the Minutemen that ended up canceling his speech at the university as a result of the protest. University of Central Florida SDS recently issued a statement calling for release of former Black Panther political prisoners. SDS is a vehicle for taking actions around any and all progressive issues.
Back to the war. What do you personally think it's going to take to end
RJ: What do you think the role of
students and other young people is in the movement to end it?
RJ: When you're organizing on campus and elsewhere, do you run into a lot of cynicism and apathy from other young people? What at do you say to those youth who dismiss the antiwar movement?
KK: There is always going to be a certain amount of apathy and cynicism from young people on any major issue -- itís easy to feel that your voice in a movement does not matter and will do nothing to change things. What these students need to remember, however, is that the masses are the makers of history. It has historically been social movements -- not great leaders -- that have changed the course of history. It is our role in this present day as students and youth to make those movements and be a part of them. As far as apathy is concerned, what is more important right here and right now than the fact that the United States government is continuing an unjust and illegal war and occupation in Iraq that is causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people? I think more and more students are recognizing this -- at UNCA we are going door-to-door in the dorms trying to get people to pledge to walkout of their classes, and almost everybody we talk to is very receptive and wanting to do something to end the war, and just need an organization or action to plug that energy into.
RJ: Is SDS encouraging young people to attend the March on the Pentagon on March 17th? On a side note, what is your take on the ongoing squabble between the two national antiwar coalitions -- UFPJ and ANSWER?
KK: SDS is mobilizing for the March on the Pentagon on the 17th; there is an SDS organizing team and a planned SDS contingent for this march. There was also an SDS-led student contingent at the January 27th UFPJ demo in DC. As far as the fighting between UFPJ and ANSWER -- I cannot speak for all of SDS, but ANSWER tends to have more anti-imperialist politics like that of SDS. There was an open letter to UFPJ written recently that was critical of the call that they put out for a protest in NYC on March 18th -- the day after the ANSWER March on the Pentagon and during the planned encampment in DC. Some SDS activists signed on to that letter and I agree with it. I oppose any kind of efforts to divide the anti-war movement.
RJ: How can people interested in organizing or attending a March 20th action find out more?
People interested in organizing an event for March 20th, or even if
schools are on spring break but still support the call to action, should
email@example.com. There is also a blog about the
March 20th actions where people can see what schools are
participating, reports about organizing methods from schools, and press
KK: The call to action for March 20th grew out of an initiative from an SDS meeting with 20 campuses, started out as having four schools signed on to action, and now has over 50 schools participating. The momentum for this is tremendous, and shows that we are truly in a new period in the student anti-war movement. Itís so inspiring to see actions being planned all across the country, with different student groups working and connecting with each other. The groups participating range from large well-known universities to small-town high schools with a couple of students taking up the initiative. I hope that we can continue with this energy past March 20th and really make history with the work that we are doing, everyday, to end the war.
Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground (Verso 1997). His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is forthcoming from Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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