Over a hundred shivering UR students gathered around the steps of Rush Rhees Library at noon on March 5, but while the temperature dropped, the students’ debate on the pre-emptive war in Iraq was just heating up. Students for Social Justice in conjunction with the Rochester Campus Action Network and the UR branch of Amnesty International, hosted an Iraq anti-war rally entitled “Books Not Bombs,” a student strike that took place simultaneously in over 300 colleges nationwide.
The event, emceed by the SSJ “Shah” and Take-Five Scholar Mansoor Kahn, featured speakers from all parts of the UR community including SSJ Rev. Greg Osterberg, Professor of Anthropology Thomas Gibson and several students who presented poems, stories, personal convictions and even one “a cappella” rap, “Burn Bush” performed by freshman Emilio Rojas.
UR students and members of the Rochester community gathered at the top of the steps to display bold signs with new anti-war slogans and phrases such as “Drop Bush, Not Bombs,” “Geeks for Peace,” “Stop World War III” and “We Say No to Pre-Emptive War on Iraq; Let the U.N. Do Its Job.”
Several Members of the College Republicans showed up with their countering signs — “Pacifists for Tyranny,” and “Support Self-Defense, Fight Terrorism” and “Why Love Hitler?”
“I respect the College Republicans for coming out to the rally,” Kahn said. “They gave us a pro-war counter-position, which helped to strengthen our anti-war position. I was surprised that they didn’t stay the whole time, however. They should have stuck it out.”
The Bush administration is intent on plunging America into an illegitimate and pre-emptive war that will only increase danger for Americans and the world. At the same time education, healthcare, the environment and the economy are being neglected. It is time for youth and students to take a stand for America’s future,” it read.
Kahn expanded on this thought at the rally. “Every year the military budget increases 12 percent, yet the administration neglects to increase money for education,” he shouted.
“We’re not going to stand for it anymore. People think the U of R is an apathetic campus, that we don’t care, but we do give a damn. As students who value our freedom and democracy, we say there is an alternative,” he said
The sporadic claps of approval and shouts of agreement became more frequent as the protest carried on. Students were compelled to speak their minds with the growing enthusiasm of the crowd.
Osterberg, an Interfaith Chapel chaplain, aroused considerable emotion when he insisted in his speech, that “the pre-emptive war reeks of self-interest and revenge [and] will cause more harms then the wrongs it seeks to redress.”
“Speak out now,” Osterberg urged the students, “so you won’t look back later on and say, ‘How could I have kept silent?'”
In his speech, co-president of UR Amnesty International and senior Paul Linczak related the rally to other major famous demonstrators of Rochester, namely Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. “War is always an evil, never a good,” he concluded.
According to SSJ member and sophomore Matt Clark, the turnout of students was an impressive number compared to the attendance at previous years’ on-campus demonstrations. SSJ, a fairly new group established at UR last year, provides a place for students where they feel “safe and comfortable speaking out against the war,” he said.
“When I first came here, the level of participation [in social-awareness groups] was horrible. I was a part of UR No Sweat, and we held a few demonstrations which protested the abuse of sweatshop workers.”
“It was a closely-knit group, but when the seniors left, there were lots of problems. With SSJ, I feel we’ve definitely come back. Before noon [on March 5], there were about five to ten people at the steps of Rush Rhees, but two minutes later the crowd was full.”
SSJ “Town Crier” and freshman David Ladon explained the significance of smaller protests. “People talk about going to the peace protests in New York City and D.C., but the small rallies start the grassroots movements throughout the country,” he said. “We’re not trying to reach the strong activists, we’re trying to reach the people who aren’t sure where they stand.”
Kahn agreed with Ladon. “We are hopeful that our rallies in the future will be even bigger. [Students] should have a voice in current affairs, and we want to see the difference we can make.”
Shore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.