Friday, April 4, 2008

Rutgers Walks Out Against the War 2008

written by Tiffany C Rutgers Against the War/Campus Antiwar Network

(Star Ledger Picture)

Hundreds of thousands of you have survived the relentless propaganda you have been subjected to, and are actively fighting your own government. In the ultra-patriotic climate that prevails in the United States, that's as brave as any Iraqi or Afghan or Palestinian fighting for his or her homeland.

If you join the battle, not in your hundreds of thousands, but in your millions, you will be greeted joyously by the rest of the world. And you will see how beautiful it is to be gentle instead of brutal, safe instead of scared. Befriended instead of isolated. Loved instead of hated.
I hate to disagree with your president. Yours is by no means a great nation. But you could be a great people.

History is giving you the chance.

Seize the time.

--Arundhati Roy, from her speech “Instant-Mix Imperial Democracy (Buy One, Get One Free)”, given in NYC in 2003

On Thursday, March 27, 2008, Rutgers students and community members of New Brunswick and Central Jersey seized the time to remind the world that the US occupation of Iraq is not an issue to be left on the backburner. It is an issue that we recognize is affecting not only the millions of Iraqis and the members of the US military, but our communities right here at home along with the international community. After months of building a strong coalition of student groups and devoted organizing, students and community members walked out of their classes and daily schedules at 1:23PM (“1-2-3 WALK OUT!!!”) in order to disrupt their lives and continue building a movement for social justice. The coalition included a diverse array of student groups, highlighting the interconnectedness between all issues: Arabic Cultural Club, BAKA (Belief Awareness Knowledge Activism, Students United for Middle Eastern Justice), CASAA (Central And South American Alliance), Fusion (multi-racial issues group), Human Rights House, Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Latino Student Council, LLEGO (queer people of color), Radigals, RU Choice, Rutgers Against the War, and Tent State/Students for a Democratic Society. A rally commenced at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Voorhees Mall, a memorial that was created with the help of anti-war activists and placed in a location where rallies and teach-ins were held during the Vietnam War era. Speakers included members of the different coalition groups and community members, emphasizing the negative economic and social impact of our communities due to the war along with the racism, sexism, and classism needed to perpetuate the US involvement in the Middle East. Political spoken word was performed by Gist/The Essence and members of the JustUs League. Sue Niederer, a gold star mother of Rutgers alumnus Seth Dvorin who was killed in action in Iraq, addressed the crowd on the military’s dishonesty and the reality of war. Iraq Veterans Against the War members Margaret Stevens and Kristofer Goldsmith also spoke. Kristofer Goldsmith, a forward observer for the US Army in Iraq, gave a compelling speech:

"I'm an American soldier, okay?" he said. "I'm a combat vet. I have friends that are [in Iraq] right now. I'm speaking for the guys that don't want to be there and members of Iraq Veterans Against the War." Goldsmith asked everyone in the crowd to please stop calling the conflict in Iraq a war. "It's not a war it's an occupation," he said. "When Congress votes in support of the War, they are not supporting the troops. I never got a pay raise when I was there."After the speech, the crowd yelled in support, “They’re our brothers, they’re our sisters! We support war resisters!”By the end of the speeches, the crowd of over 500 people was anxious to march and make our message heard. People began chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!” and “No justice, no peace! US out of the Middle East!” as we began flooding College Avenue, threading through Brower Commons to George Street and past the River Dorms, picking up more people on the way. Our first stop was the intersection Old Queens, where several administrative buildings and President McCormick are located. Here, Tiffany Cheng, a member of Rutgers Against the War and the Campus Antiwar Network, addressed the university’s complicity in the war. Kicking off a divestment campaign, she spoke about the university’s investments of its endowment in such war-profiteering companies like ExxonMobil, Halliburton, Raytheon, Boeing, L3 Communications and its closed policy in making this information publicly available. As we continued to march towards downtown New Brunswick where many banks and corporate offices are located, they stopped at George Street and Albany Street, one of the largest intersections in the town and sat down in the streets, stopping traffic. “We are sitting down to remember all of those who have died,” Suzan Sanal, a member of Rutgers Against the War, addressed to a solemn crowd. “Over 4,000 US soldiers have now been killed in Iraq. Over 1 million Iraqis have died. We are sitting down for five minutes of silence for the five years that the US has occupied Iraq.” With traffic congested, a few frustrated drivers began honking, but the hundreds of us stayed firmly planted on the streets, holding up peace signs into the air, our tranquility and solidarity louder than words. As the five minutes were ended, Philippe Garcesto, a spoken word artist, read Saul Williams’ “The Pledge of Resistance”, declaring: “Another world is possible, and we pledge to make it real!”

The crowd broke its silence and cheered, continuing to march down George Street, past Congressman Frank Pallone’s office where Erik Straub, a member of Tent State/Students for a Democratic Society shouted, “Right now we are passing Pallone’s office, who claims he is against the war, but continues to vote to fund it. We must hold our politicians accountable!” As we reached Livingston Avenue, on which a New Brunswick middle school is located, we stopped yet again to address the neglected affects of the war. Jessy Menjivar, a member of the Latino Student Council, spoke about how the war is draining money from our communities, particularly minority communities, and only serving for the profit of a few. “¡El Pueblo Unido Jamás Será Vencido!” Jessy shouted to the crowd. One block down, we reached the Marine recruiting office, where a small counter-protest of approximately seven people were waiting for us with flags and signs, attempting to block the entrance. Our group of hundreds jumped over the railings and drowned out the right-wingers who were shouting racist slogans such as “Why don’t you go back to where you came from!” to two Pakistani students. Kristofer Goldmith from Iraq Veterans Against the War calmly addressed the crowd about the truths he witnessed in Iraq.
Continuing past the neighborhoods of New Brunswick we chanted, “Tell me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!” and “What do we want? Troops out! When do we want it? NOW!”

(Street closure in front of Exon Mobile- Unfortunately you cant see the big Tent State/SDS banner that says Arrest Exxon)

Nearing the Exxon gas station, people began shouting “Exxon Mobil, BP Shell, take your war and go to hell!” At the intersection of the gas station, we once again sat down in the streets. Erik addressed the crowd with the real intentions of the US’s endeavors in the Middle East: its intentions on securing oil and the contracts that the government has already made with companies such as Exxon. Our planned destination for a speak-out at Voorhees Chapel was in sight, but people in the crowd were shouting to march onto Route 18, a major highway in New Jersey. After asking everyone whether they wanted to end at the chapel (a question greeted with silence) or to continue marching onto Route 18 (a question greeted with deafening cheers and clapping), we took a side street and flooded into the highway during rush hour. With our signs and chanting, every car we marched past was a witness to our message. Many honked in support or rolled down their windows to hold up peace signs and fists of solidarity. Even as several of the walkout coalition delegates tried to lead the crowd back towards campus, people continued walking northbound on the highway, realizing the power in numbers. Eventually we headed back onto campus, chanting “Whose school? Our school!” and “We are unstoppable! Another world is possible!”

Gathering back at the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, we had a speak-out where anyone who wanted to voice their opinions were able to do so. Youth from the New Brunswick community raised concerns about the city’s corruption, gentrification, and undemocratic processes. Students raised issues about alternative energy, police, and politicians. Unwinding at the walkout after-party, more political spoken word was performed by community members including Pandora Scooter, Denarii Monroe of LLEGO, Battle, Brittany Cline, Ion and Successor of Atlantis Underground, and rapper Silent Knight. Ion and Successor of the JustUs League and Atlantis Underground brought the snaps, laughs and cheers with their social commentaries loaded with wit. Brittany Cline of Atlantis Underground closed her piece, something she had written about the walkout, with the message of the day, to get organized and keep organizing: “Let our voices be louder than they were here today.”

1 comment:

mikeferner said...

Congratulations many times over!
Would that many thousands of our intimidated, distracted fellow citizens would join you. We can end this war if we want to. will be run again on May 1.
mike ferner