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The Students are Stirring--A Campus Antiwar Movement Begins to Make Its Mark

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Folks often ask, rather cynically, where are the students protesting the war? Well, the answer is that they are there--on their campuses and in the dorms--organizing speakers, rallies and teach-ins. The fact that folks off campus do not hear about these events does not mean that they aren't occurring. What it does mean is that the media is choosing not to cover them. Here in Asheville, NC, the local SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) linked group at University of North Carolina-Asheville (UNCA) organized a counter-recruitment protest in January 2006, a walkout and march against the war last October and is now actively involved in getting students to go to the March 17th March on the Pentagon. At UNC's Chapel Hill campus, six students were arrested on February 17, 2007 after refusing to leave Congressman David Price’s office in a protest demanding that he vote against further war funding. Meanwhile, on February 15th, students at campuses around the country held rallies and teach-ins against the war. While the movement has not reached the proportions organizers want to see, it is growing. The next student day of protest is scheduled for March 20th--three days after the March on the Pentagon. I recently connected with UNCA SDS member Kati Ketz over email. Besides her activities here in Asheville, Kati is also a spokesperson for the SDS call for the March 20th Day of Action Against the War. The exchange with Kati was an opportunity for me to learn what antiwar students have been up to and how they see the future. I share the transcript below.

Ron: First, what is the March 20th Day of Action? How did the idea originate?

Kati: March 20th is an SDS national day of student and youth action against the war in Iraq. The idea came out of an SDS-sponsored meeting of activists at the School of the Americas demonstration in Ft. Benning, GA. Over 100 students from 20 different campuses were at this meeting, and at the end we voted to make March 20th a national day of action, in order to take all of the local organizing we have been doing on our campuses and attempting to connect those struggles to make a larger impact on a national scale.

Ron:What do the organizers hope to accomplish? What would connote a successful day, here in Asheville and nationally?

Kati:We hope that this day of action will be a catalyst for students to rise up and get organized against the war in Iraq. Four years is four years too many, and it’s time that students in this country get organized against this war. In Asheville, we hope that our actions will draw in more people who want to get more involved in organizing against the war. We also hope that our actions contribute to building a grassroots student anti-war movement. Nationally, we hope that this will help build ties with other campuses and connect different movements together in order to work towards ending this war.

Ron:I notice that the majority of the campuses that have signed on for the March 20th action are from the southern part of the United States. Why do you think this is? In my mind it's somewhat significant in that it goes against the idea so many US residents have about the south—you know, reactionary and pro-war.

Kati:I think it is very significant that a lot of schools from the south are organizing against the war. It goes against the stigma that the south is normally faced with – that all anti-war organizing happens in the north and that the southern US is largely ignorant of and not involved in any progressive movements. There is some exciting organizing going on in the south – for example, UNC SDS took part in organizing a demonstration against John Ashcroft, who came to speak at their campus. Members of both Alabama and Asheville SDS groups also have participated in a lot of events (MLK day marches, a 4th of July march in New Orleans) concerning race and national oppression, since that is something that is especially relevant to us in the south.

It’s amazing to see that, for March 20th, the schools signing on to the call are from all over the United States – from North Carolina and Alabama in the south to Los Angeles and Santa Barbara in the West to New York City and Boston in the northeast to Minneapolis, Chicago, and Ohio in the Midwest, to name a few.

Ron:What is your impression of the new SDS? Is it growing in numbers and influence?

I think that we as students finally have an opportunity to build an independent student anti-war movement through SDS. I talk with students on a regular basis that are either considering or have just affiliated with SDS, and the number of SDS chapters grows weekly. SDS groups are having regional conferences and connecting with each other through forum, conferences and actions. Now, we are connecting with one another as SDS through this national day of action. There is a felt need in the student movement for a national student anti-war organization, and SDS is it.

Ron: What are your hopes for its future?

My hope for the future of SDS is that we continue to grow both in influence and in numbers across the nation, and that we are able to get organized on a national level in order to have even more nationally coordinated actions against the war in Iraq. There is a new wave of student activism in this country, and I hope to see SDS play a leading role in this movement. The student movement against the war in Vietnam took awhile to take off, but once it did it took off in a big way. We hope to see the same develop with SDS against this war in Iraq.

Ron: What are some of the other campaigns SDS is involved in--nationally and locally?

Kati: The main campaign that SDS is involved with is working against the war in Iraq, but SDS is a multi-issue progressive organization. In Asheville, we had a week of action around Palestine, where we built a 45-foot long, 8-foot tall mock apartheid wall on our campus and hosted teach-ins and showed a documentary about the situation in Palestine. There have been student strikes and marches for immigrants’ rights in conjunction with the May 1st demonstrations. UCLA SDS worked with UCLA's Moviemento Estudantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA) to organize a demonstration against a speaker from the Minutemen that ended up canceling his speech at the university as a result of the protest. University of Central Florida SDS recently issued a statement calling for release of former Black Panther political prisoners. SDS is a vehicle for taking actions around any and all progressive issues.

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Ron Jacobs is a writer, library worker and anti-imperialist. He is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up. His collection of essays and other musings titled Tripping Through the American (more...)
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