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Students march on Brandeis to protest 5th year of Iraq war

Published: March 21, 2008
Section: Front Page

the_hoot_3-21-08final_page_01_image_0003.jpgOver 120 students attended the anti-war demonstration on Wednesday, marching from Shapiro to Usdan Campus Center. Students carried signs, sported painted faces and chanted slogans such as “five years too many, not worth a single penny,” and “end the war, support the troops.” The march, a collaborative project of Democracy For America, Student for a Democratic Society, Brandeis Democrats, and Amnesty International, took place on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war, ending in a peace vigil in Shapiro Atrium.

“We’re here because this is a day of shame,” Protestant Chaplain Alexander Levering Kern explained to those gathered at the vigil. He continued, “the promise of peace is palpable when people of all ages stand up and say ‘no more war.’”

Kern was among the three planned speakers at the vigil. Father Walter Cuenin and Prof. Gordon Fellman (SOC) were also invited to the event, and shared their thoughts on the war. Fellman encouraged students to “work in this election, don’t just sit back…you have the energy, you have the smarts, and you have the opportunity.” He insisted that there was a lot of work to be done to show Brandeis students, faculty, and administration that it was time the war was over. “Let people know the war is enough,” he told students in the atrium.

After these speakers, students were invited to share their thoughts with the group. President of the Brandeis Democrats David Emer ’09 began, passionately expressing that “4,000 American deaths is too damned many.” He urged students to get involved in the election and help get a democratic candidate elected as president, and urge leaders to find a more sensible approach to achieving peace by talking to those in charge of the Student Peace Alliance at Brandeis to create a Department of Peace. He stated that in order to attack the roots of the problems, it is important do away with world poverty.

Following Emer, several students came up to share different stories and thoughts with the group. Liza Behrendt ’11 read the story of one mother whose son is currently in Iraq, and felt that his life was being wasted fighting in the war. Alex Melman ’11 and Lev Hirschhorn ’11 led the group in singing “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and “Circle Round for Freedom.”

Sahar Massachi ’11 admitted to the group that he had been in favor of the war when it began in 2003. “I believed all those people who told me the Iraq war was going all right.” Massachi, one of the DFA organizers of the protest, had changed his views over the years.

“The marvelous thing about America is that we aren’t a nation bound by blood, but we are a nation bound by laws, and by our constitution,” Massachi told the group. He continued, “for the last eight years, we’ve been chipping away at those bonds that hold us together. Why do Republicans want to break those bonds?”

One student noted the effect the war has on people around the world. He discussed the effects of the failing U.S. economy, the lack of healthcare available to many of the country’s citizens and the fall in aid available to starving children in Africa, as huge funds are diverted toward the war effort. Another student asked those present, “what are you more afraid of? Terrorists? Or a government that has no respect for the rule of law?”

“The reason we’re having this vigil…is to give people the chance to bring out voices…and have their opinions heard,” explained Hirschhorn. “Lately the media has been focused on petty exchanges between Obama and Clinton…we want to bring attention back to the war.”

In an interview with The Hoot, Massachi explained that the four groups who had organized the protest had done so in order to attract a larger crowd, rather than having several smaller events organized by different groups. This type of collaboration is “an idea that has been gaining a lot of currency on campus,” explained Massachi. “We might start it, but it’s great to have a number of people join us.”

The different clubs set up various tables in the Atrium starting at 2:30pm. Organizers and club members spent the day inviting students to sign letters addressed to Senators John Kerry and Ed Kennedy, elect anti-war veterans, and donate to various foundations. One table read out the names of soldiers who had died in the war. Sophie Rosenberg ’10, who worked at the Amnesty International table, commented, “I was very, very pleased and excited by how many people signed letters and our Amnesty International petition.”

Many organizers were excited about the new faces in the crowd. Those who attended were also pleased with the event. “I thought it was really successful,” commented Giselle Casillas ’11. “A lot of people showed up, which I wasn’t expecting.”

After the event, Father Cuenin told The Hoot, “I think this war is a disaster. As a Catholic, Pope John Paul II strongly opposed the war, and he begged President Bush not to go through with it. He was right, of course, but no one listened.”

He continued, “I am very happy to see the students organize this peace vigil, since the chaplains have been doing much smaller vigils every Thursday outside Usdan. I think it’s in keeping with the spirit of Brandeis to stand up for justice and peace.”