Nearly 160 Cornellians and Ithaca residents took a trip down to Washington, D.C. last Saturday to join hundreds of thousands of protesters demonstrating against the Iraq war. Some Cornell students did not return until yesterday after they were held in custody for demanding to see President George W. Bush.
“I came down to protest an occupation I feel is illegal and unjust,” said Wes Hanna ’06. “More importantly, I see [the occupation] as indicative of a problem we have that is larger than just this one event. We’re moving toward having imperialist power … the troops should be pulled out [of Iraq] right now.”
Hanna joined several Cornell students at the White House gate on Monday to demand to meet the President. As part of a crowd of nearly 400 people who sat down in an area off-limits to demonstrations, Hanna was eventually arrested and taken into custody. He was not released until early yesterday morning.
The group spent the better part of Sunday preparing for the “largely symbolic action” of asking to see the President, according to Hanna. The group participated in non-violent training to prepare for the possible scenario of being arrested.
“We learned what to expect from the police and from observers by roleplaying,” said Patrick Young ’06. Young was responsible for keeping track of the protesters who were arrested and aided them in their release.
Most of the protesters from the Ithaca area participated only in the events on Saturday, which included a march through the city, rallies, teach-ins and anti-war concerts.
Jessie Comba ’09 went to the protest with the Cornell Democrats and was able to listen to various speakers including Reverend Jesse Jackson and Cindy Sheehan.
“It’s important for individuals who are passionate about something like this to voice their opinion and their dissent,” Comba said. “I came because I’m vehemently against the war in Iraq.”
“I disagree with our nation’s foreign policy, not on a radical level — not that I would have them pull the troops right now, but I disagree with the notion of preemptive war,” said Tim Krueger ’08, another protester who demonstrated under the Cornell Democrats’ banner.
Krueger was surprised to find a wide range of political beliefs at the demonstrations, including everything from “pacifists” to “socialist revolutionaries,” all joining in one massive march on Washington.
“It was beautiful [to see] … the magnitude of people who are upset with our government’s current foreign policy,” Krueger said. “People who are willing to travel throughout the east coast … just to be a small part of this huge movement.”
Cornellians went for many different reasons, but Young believes they all agree on one thing: “People want answers, like why we went to war and why people are still dying.”
This is not the first massive protest against the Iraq war, and these protesters don’t expect it to be the last.
“I think we’re still in the early stages … but we’re moving towards [making real change],” Hanna said. He added that, like the Vietnam war, these protests are slowly putting pressure on the government to “give in to the people’s demands.”
The march in Washington, D.C. was organized by United for Peace and Justice (UPJ) and Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER), among a number of other national coalitions and groups. The Tompkins County Living Wage Coalition coordinated the trip for protesters from the Ithaca area.