BURLINGTON - If the current death rates continue, at least another 10,000 Iraqis and 300 U.S. soldiers will have lost their lives by September 2007. And students returning to Vermont campuses for the fall semester could be primed to respond commensurately to the unabated carnage.
Organizers at eight colleges around the state - from Marlboro to Middlebury to St. Michael's - are planning to meet May 5 at the University of Vermont to launch a Campus Antiwar Network. The aim of the daylong conference is to intensify and coordinate protests during the next academic year.
"Since the November elections, the public has been generating raised expectations for actions against the war," says Andrew Nelson, a UVM senior and a convenor of Saturday's Statewide Student Antiwar Conference. "We're trying to make that happen in Vermont."
Recent campus demonstrations suggest that the Vermont student antiwar movement is gaining momentum.
Red dye was splattered on body-shaped indentations in the snow as part of a Day of Mourning, Action and Peace held at St. Michael's College on March 20. The die-in initiated a series of events attended by hundreds of St. Mike's students on the fourth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
At Middlebury College, students heading into a dining hall one evening last month were ordered to form a single-file line and show their ID cards to other students wearing military costumes. "There was a very interesting response" to this guerrilla-theater performance, says Lili Weckler, one of its organizers. "A lot of people had questions. They wanted to know why we were protesting the war this way."
These tactics will be explained and applied on May 5. For example, students who helped organize the St. Mike's die-in will be staging another such dramatization on the Church Street Marketplace from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Strewn bodies will be the props for projecting Burlington shoppers into an everyday scene in Baghdad.
At a workshop at UVM later in the day, Middlebury students will describe the dining-hall checkpoint skit and present guerrilla theater as "a creative and effective response" to the war, according to Weckler. "We'll explain how you can bring back this form of activism to your own school," says the 19-year-old sophomore from California.
Another afternoon workshop will make the case for why occupation forces should be withdrawn from Iraq without delay. "Confusion about this is the next big thing for the antiwar movement to overcome," says conference coordinator Nelson. "A lot of people are angry about the war, but because the Democrats and Republicans are united about staying in Iraq for at least several more months, people aren't sure about having the troops pulled out now."
Drew Cameron, a UVM student and Iraq war veteran, will argue for immediate U.S. withdrawal from a GI's perspective when he speaks at an evening session concluding the conference (Cameron was one of the veterans profiled in last week's cover story, Peace Talks).
Students can play a decisive role in putting an end to an unpopular war, just as they did during the Vietnam era, suggests Sahim Elhamoumi, a St. Michael's senior. "We have the time, energy and resources that maybe older people don't have," she says.
The Vietnam protests of four decades ago "have been a really big factor of cross-fertilization for us," adds Nelson. "The lessons of that struggle are helping arm a new generation with ideas for political action."
Students striving to expand today's antiwar movement on Vermont campuses must grapple, however, with the challenge of constant turnover among activists.
"It's hard to build a student organization that lasts, because students are only involved for four years," notes Kate Magill. But the Marlboro College senior says she and a carload of fellow activists will travel to Burlington for Saturday's conference because "I want to do what I can to make sure this network gets going and stays in place next year and after."
The Statewide Student Antiwar Conference will take place this Saturday, May 5, primarily at Lafayette Hall on the UVM campus. For info, call Andrew Nelson at 318-3453.
by Cathy Resmer