BY YONI ROSENZWEIG
Harvard University, together with a network of 40 other U.S. universities, participated Monday in a national day of action to protest the prospect of war in Iraq. The student protest movement, along with parallel national efforts last week, represents the most serious nationwide attempt to combat the gathering voices in support of war with Iraq.
The event, which was spearheaded by social justice organizations in the undergraduate and Divinity schools, united Harvard activists with students at colleges from Brown, Brandeis and Boston University to Berkeley, Humboldt and the University of California Santa Cruz, where students staged a walkout from class. The rally point for this broad network was Boston Mobilization, an activist group that has planned more protests for October.
According to Alex Cheney, Director of Boston Mobilization, “Students have always been the cornerstone of the peace movement” and at rallies over the weekend and Monday they opposed U.S. military action “before nonviolent negotiation.”
The seven co-sponsoring Harvard groups, including the College Greens and both the Society of Arab Students and the Progressive Jewish Alliance, brought speakers from the student body and faculty, sponsored faxes to Congress and staged a silent protest.
Nationwide, thousands protested as part of the “Not in Our Name” coalition in each of New York’s Central Park, San Francisco’s Union Square, the Los Angeles Federal Building, downtown Detroit and Portland this weekend to oppose war.
Harvard’s Associate Dean of the College, David Illingworth, watched the rally at the Science Center with approval, calling the event “well organized.” However, he would not share his personal opinion on the invasion. Nonetheless, other chief student organizers confirmed that at least some college administrators in attendance favored the activist’s position.
Most notable among the speakers was the outspoken Tim McCarthy, Professor of History and Literature, who decried the general acceptance among national politicians of a war with Iraq. He noted the lack of dissent because, as he put it,
Recent polls have shown that a slight majority of Americans supports sending troops into Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein.
Harvard and BU Democrats both declined to co-sponsor the events, based on their party’s position. Democratic leaders in Congress and the Senate continued their support for war this week with the notable exception of Ted Kennedy, who spoke of “serious misgivings” about war with Iraq.
Speakers and demonstrators expressed a range of other concerns, from balance of power issues to “wag the dog” theories, but united in their concern for “the grave responsibility to protect innocent lives,” as stated by protest leader and College senior Shelby Meyerhoff.
Nancy Kanwisher, a professor of cognitive science at MIT, pointed a finger at the media for giving voice to the government’s choir but ignoring the stirrings of popular discord, as evidenced by the nationwide protests this weekend. Her point seemed somewhat muted by the crowd’s peppering of reporters and news cameras from national and local outlets. Professor McCarthy echoed Kanwisher’s sentiment in his speech, blaming the media for “failing to fulfill its First Amendment duty.”
The event’s origins at Harvard came from Equitas, the Divinity School’s social justice organization, and the Harvard Institute for Peace and Justice (HIPJ), a student society.
Before the rally began, Equitas provided a forum for silent protest for those uncomfortable with the rally. According to member Kendra LaRoche, “the silent protest left a sacred space for those looking to connect personal experiences of loss of life to potential loss of life in a war.”
Many of the schools participating in the day of action — including Georgetown Law Center and the University of Wisconsin — plan more events this week, include potentially large protests in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco later in October.
The upsurge in national protests coincided with a speech by President Bush in Baltimore, designed to address the concerns of war with Iraq. In the speech, the President focused on concerns about the war’s timing and the uniqueness of Iraq among nations with weapons of mass destruction. However, Bush’s speech made no mention of the protests specifically.
[Photos by Erin Berstein/RECORD]