Though the Iraq war started almost four years ago, undergraduate students across the nation have drawn criticism that they are not doing enough to voice their opinion on the situation abroad. With the fourth anniversary of the initial invasion into Iraq fast approaching at the end of the month, many student organizations are trying to counter that image and prove that their generation is not indifferent toward the war.
Both Cornell Democrats and Students Against War are organizing a rally on March 15 in Ho Plaza to demonstrate opposition to the war and bring awareness to the Cornell campus.
In conjunction with SAW, Tompkins County is also holding a county wide march throughout various residential neighborhoods that will converge in the Ithaca Commons to emphasize the need for peace and unity in stopping the war. The rally will occur on March 17, which marks the first day of invasion into Iraq.
Although the surge in activism can be attributed to many factors, Cornell Democrats Vice President Javed Qadrud-din ’07 contends the driving force behind the increase is due to visible failures in Iraq. He said, “Activism has increased because it is now clear that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating rather than improving.”
For SAW President Bryn Roshong ’08, the lack of meaningful action is what is motivating groups across campus to work together. She attributed this increase in activism to “people wanting to feel like they are doing something. The progressive side is starting to mobilize together more than ever before.”
Formerly Cornell Peace and Justice, CP and J changed its name to Students Against War to better promote their message of nonviolence.
“Peace and Justice was having issues because we focused on so many topics . . . We were really getting confused about who we were and with the looming war in Iran and Iraq such a pressing issue, we wanted to create a group that specifically addressed this topic when no one else was,” said Roshong.
Roshong claimed a multitude of factors cause the lack of student activism.
She explained, “Our generation has this idea we can change the world through our jobs by and picking a career choice that will make change — taking to the streets is not effective. Where we are right now we’re not faced with direct threats, we’re not in a situation where people are directly affected … our environment has a lot to do with it.”
Jessica Altman’10 agreed. “We’re too absorbed in our own lives to think about what’s going on the world. We’re really removed from the situation.”
While many critics have asserted that the current generation of undergraduates is less socially active than those prior compared to the Vietnam antiwar protests, some argue that even support for that antiwar movement began to decline when people realized the US government was not responding to their actions.
Prof. Elizabeth Sanders, government, said, “Social movements wane because of hopelessness to effect change, due to serious repression or disinterest on the part of elites. After the huge anti-war protests failed to stop the Iraq war in 2003, people lost hope that their efforts could effect change in the administration’s policy. That discourages protests. It seems like an irrational use of time.”
Many students echoed this feeling and believe that participating in protests and demonstrations is not an effective way to bring attention to a cause. On the contrary, this does not discredit their interest in showing that they care. Some students assume they can make a bigger impact through their jobs once they graduate.
“I really don’t believe that people are apathetic — the older generations say that we are but we’re not,” said Roshong.
In the coming months, Roshong and Sanders expect political activism to become more mainstream on campus in large part due to the newly elected Democratically-controlled Congress.
According to Sanders, “People are more likely to act when the political structure shows some break. People are rational. Activism is heating up now partially due to the Democrats controlling Congress because it provides a bit of hope that someone IS paying attention and being receptive; also, the level of disgust at the war and its costs has become much higher, and touches even those who strongly backed the war a few years ago.”
But Qadrud-din worries that “Some students may become less involved in the anti-war movement because they no longer consider the need to be as dire. Students may think that the tide has turned, and all we have to do is wait out the remaining two years of the Bush administration. This is not a good way of looking at things.”
Similarly, Prof. Nicolas van de Walle, government, conceded that is important that activists not just talk to other activists if they want to be politically efficacious.
“If we’re still in Iraq two years from now, I’ll be amazed if protests don’t rise,” he said.
Correction appended: “C.U. Activists Oppose Indifference to the War” states the Cornell Peace and Justice changed their name to Students Against War. The correct name is Students Against the War. The Sun regrets this error.