When I recently took part in conversations with student anti-war activists from campuses across the nation, I heard them say over and over again, to my disillusionment, how the anti-war movement had fizzled out after the initial invasion of Iraq–and even more so during the presidential election. I thought to myself. . .this cannot possibly be true! I assume my own vantage point in the campus anti-war movement in the Los Angeles area had made me oblivious to the state of campuses all over the nation.
But let us put things in perspective.
Clearly it can be said that the objective conditions could hardly be more in need of a genuine and vivacious campus anti-war movement. At the time of this writing, news of the death toll in Iraq ranges in the tens of thousands, over 100 thousand according to one recent estimate, and with more news of fresh killings in the lands of ancient Mesopotamia being broadcast around the planet every day. While the U.S. government has spent some 150 billion on the failed Iraqi war effort (compare this to the measly 35 million being donated to the Tsunami victims), the middle classes, who have no stake in this illegal war (any war fought for non-defensive reasons is illegal according to the most elementary international laws), continue their irrepressible downward spiral.
The Irish poet W. B. Yeats, whom I disagree with on many things, once got something right when he wrote:
â€œEducation is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.â€
Is there not a better time than now to be a college activist? Indeed, my collegeâ€™s anti-war network, which I am a humble member, has been even more active than when it first started just days before the invasion of Iraq (number II).
Indeed, one of our most successful actions occurred merely a day before the presidential election itself. We had the Associated Students pay Lions Gate Films a small fee so we could show Michael Mooreâ€™s inflammatory Fahrenheit 9/11 documentary in our main lecture hall. But we did not use this screening to endorse this or that presidential candidate (as Moore himself has). On the contrary, we told the overcrowded and somewhat shocked auditorium that regardless of who wins the election the next day, our struggle to oppose the outrageous occupation would not stop for one single second (–though, of course, our strategy and tactics may change). In synthesis, we were successful because we were creative in our anti-war activism; we were firm in our principles, but flexible in their application.
In our pre-election campus anti-war work, we made it a point to hammer the idea that we oppose the occupation, regardless of whoever is in Washington. Our goal was to prepare people for whatever was going to come. This tactic has been demonstrably effective, as in the case of the F 9/11 action. We have also made it part and parcel of our work to point out the illegal nature of the war and the occupation, both of which cannot logically (or legally) be considered separable. Thus, we never became susceptible to the post-invasion confusion, which apparently has contributed to the corrosion of so many anti-war organizations and networks, from what my friends have been saying.
We need to stand back and look at the big picture. According to a recent poll published in the LA Times Dec. 28th issue, most people in the U.S. do not believe the Iraq war was worth fighting. The duty of campus anti-war activists is to direct this into a coherent movement. So, if campus activism is dying in some localities, then fundamentally it is not because of the supposed apathy or narrow-mindedness of the students, but rather, if I may be so bold, it is the lack of leadership on our part.
With faith in our younger generationâ€™s desire for a better world and a firm grasp of the objective and subjective conditions, we can do anything.
In this vein, our campus initiated the call for mass campus walkouts on January 20th, the day of W Bushâ€™s inauguration. We call on all students to walkout as an act of defiance and in solidarity with the people suffering from the policies of this administration.
In our Walkout Statement, we quote Martin Luther King, Jr. in this manner:
â€œWe are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is the time for vigorous and positive action.â€
In this spirit, we as students have chosen to take action on the 20th. The time for confusion and disillusionment on campuses after the election and occupation is over; now is the time for action!
Richard Moreno is a student at Mt. San Antonio College in the Los Angeles area. He is also a cofounder of the Global Resistance Network. and he can be reached at [email protected]