Two years ago, as America’s foot soldiers headed into Iraq, a thousand of Columbia’s own artillerymen hit the bricks in an organized walkout that culminated in a rally at the sundial.
Yesterday’s noon walkout, to protest the second anniversary of the war, drew only 50 students at its peak.
But organizers say that the low turnout is not indicative of political opinion at Columbia. “Most people on campus are against the war,” said Stephanie Schwartz, GS/JTS ’06, the president of the Campus Anti-War Coalition. One of the reasons for “preaching to the choir,” Schwartz said, is to reintegrate those who are against the war but left the protest effort to support John Kerry’s unsuccessful presidential campaign.
“There is a small part of the Left that doesn’t think the election is what’s going to stop the war. It’s what the people are doing on the streets,” Schwartz said.
David Judd, SEAS ’08 and a member of the Anti-War Coalition, said the election “was demoralizing for the anti-war movement as a whole,” but thinks dissent is on the upswing again. He said yesterday’s turnout, while low, was a positive step, up from an October demonstration at Columbia protesting the siege on Fallujah that drew about 15 people.
“On the two-year anniversary, someone should be saying something,” Judd said.
At yesterday’s protest, the sundial turned into an open-mic podium. Most of the talk centered on Iraq, the “backdoor draft,” oil, and, of course, maintaining an organized opposition. Speakers included Columbia students, a member of City College’s anti-war network, a Columbia law student from Palestine, and Barnard Political Science professor Dennis Dalton, in a cranberry beret.
Dalton wondered aloud how many of those in attendance would be willing to blockade Hamilton Hall, referring to previous instances of mass movements on campus. “What I’m advocating is civil disobedience,” he said. “We’ve done it before, and we can do it again.”
Another speaker was 10-year-old Sonia from London, the founder of Children Against the War. “I would like to ask Mr. Bush why it was necessary to use cluster bombs during the Iraq war,” she said quietly into a microphone. “Hundreds of Iraqi children have been maimed or killed,” she said.
Sonia, who said her first trip to America has been “really fun,” founded the group when she was seven. “When I was watching the news, I didn’t like the war or the bombing, and I wanted to stop this,” she said.
She is glad for the opportunity to voice her opinion about the Iraq war and thinks that most kids have opinions on things happening in the world, but “adults let them speak out.”
“We shouldn’t stop demonstrating. We should carry on,” Sonia said. Her thoughts echoed the message on most posters: ”We won’t go.” Other posters read, “End the occupation,” and relevant to Columbia’s allowing military recruiters on campus, “Recruiters out of our schools.”
“Dying in Iraq is not a job opportunity,” one speaker said.
Mike Grossman, a first-year law student, walked by the demonstration without looking up. “I don’t think there’s any point in the doing this,” he said. “The mobilization isn’t sufficient.”