March 6, 2003

Students Against War Skip Class, Hold Protest

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Yesterday, an estimated 200 Cornell students marched and rallied on campus against the impending war on Iraq. Part of a national effort to raise awareness on the war’s effect on the educational system, Cornell was among approximately 230 universities across the nation that participated. Officially organized by the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition (NYSPC), the main theme was “Books Not Bombs.” Its primary emphasis focused on the effects of the War on the American educational system.

Picket lines formed in front of Baker Laboratories, on the Arts Quad and in Collegetown at 8:45 a.m. They joined together at 10:00 a.m. and marched through Goldwin Smith, Rockefeller, Uris and Upson, among others. In addition, the group marched through Trillium and the Ivy Room during the noon lunch rush.

“We received a huge reception in the dinning halls, although perhaps philosophically mixed in some capacity. But everyone noticed us, and that was what we were aiming for,” said Tim Perone ’06, one of the demonstration’s organizers.

At noon, the group’s size increased to about 200 students. After a brief gathering on Ho Plaza, they continued on by silently marching through Uris and Olin Libraries while holding up signs to inform others of the cause.

The march reached their final destination of Day Hall around 2:00 p.m. A rally was held for approximately one hour, during which several speakers gave opinionated addresses about the impacts of the governmental budget cuts in education due to the increased spending for the War.

Prior to the demonstration, the rally organizers and the CU Anti-War Coalition drafted two letters regarding the University’s involvement in the War effort. These letters were read out loud to the audience during the rally, explaining to them that the organizers hope to obtain an official University statement in regards to their position on the War.

“We wanted to highlight the connection between education and the War. The point was to show that the more the government spent on the War, the less they will spend on more domestic causes. We spend an average of $1.6 billion per day on defense, while our education systems remain highly under-funded,” Perone said.

“We wanted specifically to have Hunter Rowlings issue a clear statement. We want the University to develop an honest and open policy in regards to its corporate connections with the War,” said Alex Bomstein ’04, another of the strike’s organizers.

“We want to know exactly how much money Cornell is giving these corporations, such as Lockheed-Martin and Boeing, which are directly involved with the Defense Department. We hope that by obtaining clearer statements and establishing better communication, we can then being to work to divert these pro-War funds,” Perone said.

The letters were sent to the Faculty Senate and to President Hunter Rowlings, but a response has not yet been received.

In addition to the student demonstrations, at 5:00 p.m. a debate took place in Rockefeller Hall between pro and anti-war advocates. The speakers consisted of six panelists, with three proponents on each side of the issue.

In addition to the events on campus, the greater Ithaca student community was also involved. Students at Ithaca High School held a “walk-out” which solicited over 500 participants. The rally was held at the edge of high school’s campus and lasted approximately an hour. Participants also included students from the Alternative Committee School.

Elizabeth Gray, a senior at Ithaca High and one of the event’s organizers, said “It turned out better than expected. The entire event was really civilized. Even though people got really heated throughout the rally, they still stayed extremely respectful.”

Although the student effort at Ithaca High School met little resistance, Cornell did encounter some restraint from the administration. Henrik Dullea, vice president for University relations ordered that a banner hanging on Morrill Hall which read “No Blood for Oil” be cut down.

“It is wonderful that students are holding rallies and voicing their opinions. However, we seek to maintain institutional neutrality on most matters, and the banner displayed on Morrill Hall could reasonably be construed as an institutional expression of opinion rather than a personal view,” Dullea said.

Dullea pointed to a 1970 resolution of the Board of Trustees, which specifically delineated that institutional resources, such as buildings, are not to be used for political purposes other than through “regular established University channels” for the scheduling of events.

Others, however, disagree with Dullea.

“Mr. Dullea ordered the banner removed because, I am told, he saw a danger that critics could misconstrue its message as an official Cornell statement. That would be plausible if you think Day Hall typically promulgates Cornell policy via hand-painted banners on sheeting from JoAnn Fabrics. In American legal tradition, the allowable reasons for curtailing public speech are narrowly limited, and have to be far more urgent than that,” said Prof. Carol Rosen, Linguistics.

Overall, the day-long student strike raised awareness among the Cornell community.

“I went because I didn’t know that much about the war issue, and I wanted to learn more. On a whole, it was an impressive student effort, but I wish they had given out more factual information at the rally instead of just expressing their opinions. I would have liked to see the advocates of this strike give more of an informative background on which they based their opinions,” said Anna Carbino ’06, one of the student participants.

“It is important to realize that today’s strike was a national movement due to the great number of universities that participated. However, even more impressive, it is also an international movement,” Perone said.

The National Youth and Student Peace Coalition is currently in the process of connecting with similar organizations from other countries. So far, they have received confirmation from the Spanish Students Union and the Students Against Sanctions and War national organization in Canada that that the strike will also be held in their respective countries. The NYSPC has also been in contact with students in the UK, Australia, Brazil, Mexico and the EU.

Archived article by Jennifer Chen