Campus Antiwar Network Stands Up Against War: Protest at the Grassroots (Socialist Worker)

Campus Antiwar Network stands up against war
Protest at the grassroots

August 11, 2006 | Page 16

CHARLES JENKS, chair of the advisory board of Traprock Peace Center, gave a presentation as part of a panel discussion on the student antiwar movement at the Socialism 2006 conference in New York City. Here, we print excerpts of his presentation.

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THE CAMPUS Antiwar Network (CAN) has had a very busy year, confronting military recruiters on campuses, and facing down repression and threats by college administrations.

During this academic year, protests followed by repression took place at Holyoke Community College (HCC), George Mason University, Kent State, Harold Washington College, Hampton University (a historically Black university in Virginia), Pace University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, San Francisco State University (SFSU) and the University of Texas-Austin.

In most of these cases, student protesters have been threatened with possible expulsion. At HCC, for example, student Charles Peterson was pepper-sprayed by campus police during a nonviolent protest. It was the police who had become violent, by ripping a sign from a student’s hands and then roughing up students.

At Kent State, recruiters chased and grabbed student Dave Airhart from a climbing wall they had erected on campus. Airhart is a veteran of the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, and had unfurled a banner that read “Kent, Ohio, for Peace” at the top of the wall. He was threatened with expulsion by the university.

At Hampton University, students were threatened for passing out “unapproved” literature.

In all these situations, college administrations backed down in the face of massive phone calls, e-mails and, in some cases, media attention.

The situation at SFSU is ongoing, as students have been threatened with discipline after having been kicked off campus for several days with no hearing. Several students were rendered homeless and prevented from going to campus jobs as the university reacted to their loud, but nonviolent, protest of military recruitment at a campus jobs fair.

Police used rough tactics in escorting students from the jobs fair, but as in all the other cases, there was no investigation of the perpetrators of violence–that is, the police or recruiters.

Still, despite the threats, no students have been subjected to serious discipline. Much of the reason for this may lie in the extraordinary support that students have received from activists and organizations from the larger antiwar movement.

Several strategies have been used to bring in support from the broader movement. Traprock Peace Center, CAN national coordinators and CAN chapters at the affected campuses have consulted on the best approaches for each campus. Tactics have included online petitions, letters of support, call-in campaigns and open letters to college administrators.

Traprock took on the role of approaching outside activists and organizations, and asking them to write letters of support for the students. The letters were sent to college administrators, and also posted at the Traprock and CAN Web sites, with links from the Web sites of sympathetic organizations and news services. Upon posting the letters, we sent out e-mail blasts with links to the letters and requests to the movement at large to call and write to administrators.

The letters from activists and organizations have served several functions. The letters have encouraged other people in the antiwar movement to contact the administrations, either by e-mail, letter or phone call; have helped to generate media interest through use in press releases and at press conferences; have been available as exhibits for potential disciplinary hearings; and have forged or strengthened relationships between student and non-student organizers.

In virtually all cases, threatened disciplinary actions were dropped prior to a hearing. At Kent State, NBC’s Dateline called the administration, and a British television crew showed up for the student press conference and hearing. The administration dropped its charges before the press conference could take place. Students held it anyway, as an educational program and as a celebration (audio and photos are available online at

A wide array of activists and organizations responded to the calls for help. It was extraordinary that so many people took the time to sit down and write letters. We asked so often, given CAN’s busy year, that we opted for the open letter approach with SFSU. While United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) has not responded, the students got warm international support.

That support has been a two way street. CAN has also supported the initiatives of others. I contrast this cooperative approach with refusals of cooperation by another U.S. national network, namely UFPJ (I note that CAN’s spirit of cooperation has not always been mirrored by other organizations that purport to represent students).

This year, students have received support from U.S. activists including Cindy Sheehan, Camilo Mejía, Sharon Smith, Dahr Jamail, Michael Letwin (New York City Labor Against the War), David Swanson (After Downing Street), Anthony Arnove, Sara Flounders, Howard Zinn, Pablo Paredes, Todd Chretien, Stan Goff, Norman Solomon, Jeffrey St. Clair and many others, including directors of regional coalitions (such as Bonnie Weinstein of BAUAW) and grassroots organizations (such as Tim Baer, with the Bloomington Peace Action Coalition).

European supporters have included Denis Halliday and Hans-Christof von Sponeck, both former United Nations (UN) Assistant Secretary Generals, who resigned in protest as UN Humanitarian Coordinators for Iraq; Dirk Adriaensens, coordinator of SOS Iraq and a member of the Executive committee of the Brussells Tribunal; Lindsay German, convener for the Stop the War Coalition (UK); Paola Pisi, professor of religious studies (Italy) and editor of; and Pav Akhtar, convenor of the National Union of Students’ (UK) Internationalism Campaign.

CAN’s international support has grown out of relationships that it has developed over the years.

The Stop the War Coalition and the National Union of Students have supported CAN since its beginning. Jeremy Corbyn, British Labor MP and a Stop the War steering committee member gave the keynote address at CAN’s founding conference in Washington, D.C., on January 17, 2003. Helen Salmon of NUS also spoke in D.C., and Omar Waraich of British Students Stop the War addressed CAN’s national conference in November 2003 in Chicago.

CAN has responded to international invitations to participate in events in Paris (the 2003 European Social Forum and 2004 protests); Iraq (2004 peace delegation); St. Petersburg (2004 conference); London (delegate to the 2005 London International Peace Conference) and this year at the World Social Forum in Caracas.

In December, CAN supported the international call, led by the Stop the War Coalition, for mass demonstrations in major cities marking the third anniversary of the war.

In contrast, UFPJ pointedly refused to do so at the London conference. Judith LeBlanc, UFPJ’s Co-Director, said that it was instead looking to a mass demo in late April, with an eye toward the 2006 Congressional elections (as we know, after stating that it would refuse to work with ANSWER, UFPJ organized a mass march and festival, without the traditional rally, in New York City on April 29).

CAN has also supported initiatives by non-student organizations in the U.S. In 2006, for example, it has endorsed the ExxonMobil War Boycott; the Walk to Redeem the Soul of America from Dallas to Crawford, Texas; and the “Don’t Attack Iran” petition initiated by Cindy Sheehan.

This followed a major collaboration with Military Out of Our Schools (MOOS-Bay) that brought 650 people to a joint counter-recruitment conference in San Francisco in October 2005. At that conference, CAN endorsed upcoming initiatives in December by other organizations, such as World Can’t Wait (an initiative that UFPJ refused to endorse.)

The big question now is where does the U.S. student movement go from here, after a year of protests against war and military recruitment, and after victories over repression at campuses coast to coast?

The answer to that question is up to students obviously. CAN has a strong record of success, and given that it is the democratic, grassroots national student antiwar network in the U.S., it will have a primary role in determining student priorities in 2006-2007.

Certainly, CAN has much work to do to stimulate and organize student activism at U.S. campuses. Unlike last year, though, we know this: It has proven allies, both in the U.S. and internationally, who will come to its aid when it faces the inevitable challenges that lie ahead.

CAN’s history in photos, with links to blogs that contain letters of support, can be found at Visit the Campus Antiwar Network on the Web at

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