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COLUMN: Students for Peace march against Iraq war, Bush presidency

By Erik Pekar

Section: Opinions

January 28, 2005

On January 20th, the day of George Bushs controversial 2nd inauguration, the members of Students for Peace were in Malcolm X Park, ready to rally, and ready to protest. An African-American woman, probably in her late 50s or 60s, stood in front of over one thousand coffins, singing in a bluesy rasp, this is a rich mans war, so what are the poor fighting for?

As a small group of people surrounded her, clapping along to the song, nodding in agreement, sometimes a shout of approval would come out of the audience. Everyone seemed mesmerized by this tiny and homeless African American woman. This tiny woman seemed to share the feelings of the general crowd at the rally. People were angry, but that was not why they were there;

people were there because they were hurt, confused, let down. They seemed betrayed by a country that seemed to have forgotten about its middle and lower classes.

It was for these same reasons that many students from Brandeis came to the rally and protest. Many people from Brandeis are from the upper-middle class suburbs on the East Coast. Yet despite this it seems that everyone was affected in some way by the Bush administration. Everyone knew someone who had gone to fight in the war or had a family member who was hurt by the freedoms the administration had allowed to big business, or knew someone else who had lost someone in 9/11 and disagreed with the actions the administration took after the events. In some cases the reasons were more idealistic and less selfish, but whatever the reasons, people felt the need to come down and to protest. People were willing to skip classes, sleep little or not at all, sit in a bus for 10 hours each way, and stand in the cold for a whole day just to protest a presidents inauguration. Was it worth it?

Many people insisted to me, and to Sam Vaghar, the other co-founder of Students for Peace, that going to D.C. was a pointless field trip and that it would accomplish nothing. For a while I was agreeing with them and questioning whether or not it would be worth it not just for the club, but for me to go down. In reality, what would it accomplish? George Bush is a second-term president with little to lose. He would not pay attention to the all the thousands of protesters, let alone the 30-some-odd members of Students for Peace.

On the bus ride down I was constantly busy, talking to different people, passing out information, preparing for the day that lay ahead. I had one quiet moment, though, when I began to realize why this trip was worth it and how this trip would create change. I remembered why Sam and I planned this trip to begin with. To create great social and political change, change must first be made on a much smaller level. This trip was to wake people up, even if only 30, at Brandeis University. This trip would help remind people of the social change that is possible.

Following the rally, there was an incredible protest. Thousands of people marched, carried coffins, and shouted slogans. There were people holding signs and playing music. There were people from all over the political spectrum socialists, anarchists, Democrats, independents, libertarians, even Republicans. People would watch from their windows as we marched through Washington D.C. Some people clapped and showed signs of support and some did not. One man gave the protesters the finger after they showed him a peace sign. When the march came to an end many people left, and many more came. A few members of Students for Peace, including myself, left and went to 4th and Pennsylvania to watch the Presidential motorcade. It seemed that there were more people there who were anti-Bush than Bush supporters. I had never even heard of a crowd that was as split politically as the one that was watching the motorcade.

While I watched the motorcade, yelling more slogans while standing next to a group of Bush supporters, two members of Students for Peace were at 14th and Penn where a protest had taken a turn for the worse when cops had arrived with pepper spray, ready to take on the large crowd forming. Many of the officers used their pepper spray and batons in situations where there was no need, and a good number of people got minor injuries. Luckily, at 4th and Penn things were not as bad.

As the motorcade passed by the crowd began to go their separate ways. It was at this time that one member of Students for Peace took out an American flag and held it upside down in the middle of the sidewalk. Two more members stepped into to help hold the first members arms and the corners of the flag, and then more members stepped behind. Several people shouted insults and said how they were misled or unintelligent youths without respect. To those who truly understood the meaning of the upside down American flag, a sign of Democracy in distress, it was a symbol of the current administration.

Students for Peace returned to Brandeis (with the Republicans) the next morning. We were all tired, especially Sam and I, who had gone the whole week with an hour of sleep per night. For us, though, this is just the beginning. This is only a sign of what else may come. As soon as we returned we got back to work. Sam and I have been working on several new ideas for Students for Peace that will be explored at upcoming meetings. Our plans are to help the communities in the greater Boston area and at Brandeis through a variety of projects including benefit events and conferences. We believe that it is time for students at Brandeis University to become as idealistic and willing to work for social change as they once were, thirty or forty years ago. And while many people will say that they do not agree, and many others will say that they agree and then do nothing, we are ready to do whatever it takes, and we are not the only ones.

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