Activists Gather to Protest Gulf WarBy Zareena Hussain
Some 300 local residents and a handful of students descended on the campus Saturday to attend a five-hour teach-in in 10-250 to protest possible airstrikes by the U.S. against Iraq.
A mixture of former hippies, middle-aged women, socialist union workers, and student activists came together to debate and condemn U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf region.
At the end of the event, all present in the lecture hall joined hands and chanted "hands off Iraq" as they raised their hands into the air. Activists then chanted "no war" as they left the lecture hall.
The event was organized by the Arab Student's Organization and by the newly formed Emergency Committee Against War in Iraq.
Students plan protest
One of the products of the teach-in is a plan for a student march on the Park street T-stop Wednesday. Roni Krouzman, a junior at Boston University and lead organizer, announced his intentions to have "1,000 students on Park Street" at the forum.
Even if the U.S. signs on to the agreement with Iraq brokered by U.N. Secretary General Kofi A. Annan SM '72, students still plan to march.
The protest, said Alan L. Shihadeh G, a member of the ASO who helped organize the event, is not merely about the possibility of air strikes but also about "ending the continuing war on Iraq." This war includes the devastation caused by economic sanctions instituted after the Gulf War, he said.
Speakers attack USpolicy
The teach-in began with a panel of speakers who spoke out against U.S. policies in the Middle East.
Howard Zinn, a retired professor of history at Boston University pointed out that the vilification of Saddam Hussein falls in line with the U.S. pattern of finding a villain to unite the country in times of conflict.
Issam A. Lakkis G, speaking as a representative of the Arab Student's Organization, focused on the damage caused to the Iraqi people by U.S. intervention over the years. The United States openly supported Iraq in the war against Iran, ignoring Hussein's use of chemical weapons against Iran and Kurdish insurgents, Lakkis said. The purpose of supporting Hussein was to maintain political balance in the Persian Gulf region after the overthrow of the shah in Iran.
"Now the Iraqi people are asked to pay the price for a contract between Saddam and the American administration that went wrong. Are these the rules for the 21st century. Is this the new world order?" he asked.
"Today, an Iraqi child is learning again to live with the raging death," Lakkis said.
National, local media covers event
Local and national media, including ABC News, CNN, and Fox25 were on hand to interview those present.
The heightened media coverage was perhaps a result of the public relations fiasco endured by Secretary of State Madeline K. Albright and the federal government at Wednesday's town meeting at Ohio State University aired on CNN, said Cathy Hoffman, director of the Cambridge Peace Commission, who helped moderate the teach-in.
"This is a stupendous effort by the people who organized this," Shihadeh said. After dismal media coverage of previous protest activities in the Boston area and a "dismissive" response by the media, teach-in organizers contacted various media outlets to ensure coverage of the event, Shihadeh said.
Activists form action groups
After those present listened to the panel speak they separated into groups based on constituency.
The purpose was "to create a structure so people can relate to a small group and then relate to the larger group," said Judith Glaubman who helped lead of focus group consisting of residents from Somerville concerned by the situation in the Middle East.
"The embargo has functioned as a weapon of mass destruction," Glaubman said. The Iraqi people "have already suffered immeasurably with no effect," Glaubman said.
In addition to local residents being present, another constituency represented was labor unions.
As one walked passed the lecture hall union workers offered sale of the The Militant and The Worker's Vanguard.
"We see all of this as a part of a broader struggle against capitalism and imperialism," said Andy Buchanan, a member of the Socialist Worker's Coalition, which publishes The Militant.
Kristen Chevalier, a first-year at Wellesley, said the labor unions seemed to have the "own agendas" separate from stopping the war and economic sanctions against Iraq. In the workshops, these separate agendas may have prevented those in the groups from forming concrete plans to deal with protesting government action, she said.
Equally present, however, were local residents concerned about the situation overseas.
"The most important thing is to build a mass movement against this war," said Elena Tate, a junior at Cambridge Ridge Latin School. "I don't think we can stop this war," Tate said, "I think it is important to build a struggle against a system that starts wars."
Many felt that an attack against Iraq at this stage is largely unjustified.
"There's not enough reason,' said Kristen Feindell, a Boston resident.