February 15, 2007
ANTI-WAR WALKOUT SCHEDULED FOR NOON TODAY
Coalition of Students, Faculty Will Join With 16 Other Schools to Call for Troops to Withdraw From Iraq
BY TOM FAURE AND CAROLINE KAO
Columbia Daily Spectator
In solidarity with 16 other schools, hundreds of students, faculty, and staff from Columbia University and neighboring institutions are expected to interrupt their daily routines to rally and march in opposition to the Iraq war today.
The day of action, first announced Feb. 1, is the first in a series of efforts from the newly created Columbia Coalition Against the War to reignite the anti-war movement on campus. The rally, scheduled to start at noon, will be followed by a march circling down to 125th Street and back. From there, demonstrators will congregate in Lerner Hall for a teach-in featuring at least six speakers.
The CCAW has called on all Columbia faculty to either cancel or allow students to miss class unpunished in order to attend the day of action. Organizers have gained support of many professors, students, and local unions, and both national and international anti-war groups. At least 23 professors have e-mailed CCAW saying they will either cancel their classes or encourage their students to participate in the walkout without penalty.
Blair Mosner, BC ’07 and official spokeswoman for the Coalition, said: “we’ve gotten overwhelmingly positive support from professors, unions, students -it’s going to be amazing.” She said they expect hundreds of people.
Students from outside schools are welcome, and expected guests include groups from NYU and Sarah Lawrence College, though the Coalition agreed “we should encourage them to start anti-war movements on their own campuses,” Mosner said.
The rally will feature a speaker from Iraq Veterans Against the War, United for Peace and Justice, United Auto Workers Local 2110, Transport Workers Union Local 241, Barnard College political science professor Dennis Dalton , and a representative from every group in the Columbia Coalition Against the War. Empaneling the teach-in, which will start with speeches and conclude with a question-and-answer session, will be a representatives from IVAW and UFPJ, history professor Richard Bulliet , Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies Hamid Dabashi , Michael Letwin of New York City Labor Against the War, Carlito Rovira of Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, and women’s studies professor Rebecca Young . Tickets will be free and available in Lerner to the general public on a first-come, first-served basis.
As of press time, about 40 Columbia University professors had signed the online petition supporting the strike, and three campus labor unions have spoken out in support. Neni Panourgia , an anthropology professor at Co lumbia who has studied political movements, expressed enthusiasm about the campus’s anti-war activism.
“It’s incredibly important for students not only to be able to express their positions, but for students to recognize themselves as members of society and as members of a political space that they help to shape,” she said.
In response to criticism of the strike as misguided hostility toward the University, Panourgia said, “It could only be construed as a strike against the University if the University was either aligning itself with the government or if the University was existing outside of society, but neither is true.”
In preparation, “The University will take reasonable and prudent security precautions to allow an event to proceed according to plan and to ensure the safety of all participants,” University spokesman Robert Hornsby wrote in a statement.
“Student organizations have a shared responsibility to conduct events as proposed,” he added.
Repercussions for faculty and students are not uniform. “Some faculty may feel that a particular event represents a valuable teaching moment, pertinent to their curriculum,” the Office of the Provost said in a statement.
Regarding repercussions for faculty who cancel their classes, the statement said that “faculty … are accountable to their students and to their dean.” Punishments for students who choose to miss class, as the strike calls for, are dispensed at the discretion of their professors.
THE RESPONSE SO FAR
Student Governing Board Chair Sakib Khan, SEAS ’07, said he felt students were “remarkably in support of the sentiment of the strike” when he went door-to-door in Carman Hall to advertise. “I have yet to hear from anyone who has complained about a canceled class,” Khan said.
While the majority of student responses have been positive, Khan and another student were allegedly attacked while posting and handing out fliers advertising the day of action.
“David Judd, Samantha Stanton, and I dorm-stormed Carman on Sunday night,” Khan said. “We finished by 7:35 and I had some extra fliers so we’re standing outside Carman, handing them out to passer-bys.
I extended my arm, holding a flier, to a 6-foot-4-inch Caucasian male wearing a gray hoodie and said ‘strike against the war.’ He slapped the flier out of my hand, pushed me in the chest and then pushed me in the face. The desk guard at Carman saw the whole thing but thought he [the aggressor] was a friend of mine screwing around.” The incidents have been reported to Public Safety. Associate Vice President James McShane was out of the office Wednesday and did not respond for comment.
U.S. Military Veterans of Columbia University president Luke Stalcup, GS ’08, said that the exact purpose of today’s events were “unclear” to him and that he hoped the CCAW would clarify its message.
“It’s very vague to me,” he said. “It’s important that we be more specific about what we’re advocating for. Everybody wants to end the war, they’re not exactly clear about how they’re advocating ending the war. . . . they have a responsibility [to make their position more clear]. It’s not productive for people to just advocate for these very vague notions.”
Stalcup also said he was “glad that people are taking an interest in what’s going on in Iraq.”
Some faculty members have also opposed the day of action, questioning the strategies of the Coalition. Richard Betts, director of the Institute of War and Peace Studies, said in an e-mail, “I have always opposed the war in Iraq, but a ‘strike’ from classes is a nonsensical and inappropriate way to demonstrate such sentiment.” Betts said that the Coalition’s day of action “would be a more impressive gesture if taken out of recreation time rather than education time.”
David Epstein, a professor of political science, also did not support the strike because of what he perceives as a disconnect between missing classes and ending the Iraq war. Epstein said in an e-mail, “A big part of the mission of a university is to instill lessons and values in its students to make this sort of war less likely in the future. A Columbia education should be part and parcel of the protest against the war, not its antithesis.”
UNITED IN OPPOSITION
With a few exceptions, most of the professors who have formally opposed the Coalition’s day of action nevertheless said students would be allowed to miss class unpunished. And despite the supposed incidents of aggression toward those posting fliers, as of now student groups opposed to the CCAW’s political stance will not be mounting any counter-protest.
College Republicans President Chris Kulawik, CC ’08, said the group’s plans were not set, but that as of Wednesday night even a statement of opposition would be unlikely.
“The idea that we would present a counter-protest is flawed,” Stalcup said. “We’re not a pro-war group. We’re not an anti-war group. We have a really diverse membership . . . I’m really glad that people are able to exercise their right to protest and I hope that they remember the large number of people who have given their lives so that they could have that right.”
Still, Kenneth Prewitt, Carnegie Professor of Public Affairs at the School of International and Public Affairs, said that he fully supports the strike as a valid tactic for instigating change.
“The e-mail that came to faculty was carefully and properly worded to provide multiple options by which the faculty could discharge their responsibilities as professors but simultaneously try to help the students and the fellow faculty members make a statement,” he said.
Prewitt recalled his own activism as a student during the Vietnam War, and emphasized, “not to try anything strikes me as ignoring the history of social movements and protest movements . . . they have been quite important to this country.”
Members of the Columbia Military Veterans and other members of the military are not technically allowed to express opinions on the war, but Dan Cross, GS and a member of the CMV, said he generally supported the students’ right to protest.
“People should get out and get their message heard, whatever that message is,” Cross said. “I fully support the right of people to go and protest. The reason I’m in the military is in order to ensure peoples’ right to do just that.”
Though no campus religious groups officially endorsed the strike, Omar Siddiqi, CC ’09 and president of the Muslim Students Association, said its reasons for not supporting the strike were “mostly logistical. The vast majority of members of the MSA are against the war.” Similarly, speaking on whether or not there will be a large Intervarsity Christian Fellowship turnout, Jonathan Walton, CC ’08 and a member of IVCF, said: “I can’t say, but I know there will be members there. I know I’ll be there.”