A vibrant hue pierced parts of campus last Friday, as students and professors in orange T-shirts rallied together to voice their opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.
“For 24 hours we skip class, we skip work, we leave our cars at home, we buy nothing, we fast,” the students stated on their website. “For one day we set our lives aside to examine and understand this occupation – .”
Orange Friday, as the event was called, engaged faculty and students in a day-long dialogue in an effort to raise awareness about the repercussions of the war abroad.
Members of Cornell University, Ithaca College and the Ithaca all participated, hosting individual events in their communities during the day before converging later on the commons to meet each other and to hear discussions from anti-war activists, including one who experienced the war firsthand.
Keynote speakers at the commons were three of the St. Patrick’s Four as well as Perry O’Brien ’08, a former medic in Afghanistan who became disillusioned with the war.
The St. Patrick’s Four were arrested in March 2003 for an anti-war protest in which they spilled their own blood at a Tompkins County army recruiting station. They were found not guilty of conspiracy charges but guilty of two lesser charges last Monday.
“The decision I eventually came to in Afghanistan was that we weren’t there to produce long-term change; we were there for political purposes … to advance an agenda that did not have Afghanistan in mind,” O’Brien told The Sun.
Sentiments similar to O’Brien’s overlaid the dialogue at Cornell’s Orange Friday.
“Clearly, [we’re] no longer a democratic nation. It’s hard to accept,” Prof. Zillah Eisenstein, politics, Ithaca College, told a group of about 25 students outside Olin library last Friday.
In her talk, “Take Back Our Country,” Eisenstein criticized some of the domestic and overseas havoc caused by the Bush administration. She urged students to continue political discourse and activist movements to bring democracy back to America.
Other campus speeches included “From Abu Ghraib to the Superdome: American War Today” by Prof. Anne Maria Smith, government; “Why This Mother is Against the War” by Prof. Jane Maria Law, Asian studies; “Reservation Iraq” by Prof. Eric Cheyfitz, English; and “Sojourner Truth, John Brown, and Pacifism” by Prof. Margaret Washington, history.
The idea for Orange Friday germinated this past summer, according to Lynne Feeley ’06, one of the day’s organizers.
Feeley said she and other Cornell students who were active in the Redbud woods movement “were all spending a lot of time together … talking about this stuff all the time. [It] grew organically from there.”
Out of these discussions, Feeley, Patrick Young ’06 and Jeff Purcell ’06, a Sun columnist, wrote and posted a national call to action on many independent media sites. They also set up an email account and contacted other universities about spreading the movement beyond Cornell, Feeley said.
On their website, the organizers explained that they latched onto the color orange because “orange is what our peace movement needs to be: bright, bold and impossible to miss.”
With six out of 10 Americans characterizing themselves as against the war, the group wanted an identifying symbol to serve as a point of entry for conversation, Feeley said.
“Even in organizing this event, I’ve met a lot of Ithaca College anti-war activists, [who have] had different experiences at their school,” said Wes Hannah ’06.
Orange Friday’s participants described the day not just as a day of protest but as a day of learning.
“Without awareness, nothing will change,” said Kathy Guis ’06. “Apathy is never going to stop this war.”
Afghan veteran O’Brien added that current circumstances make it “really really easy for most students to ignore the war and and not really think about it, because they don’t have to fight. One of the reasons we’re not seeing as much activity as Vietnam is that people aren’t being drafted – yet”.
He urged the Cornell community to reach out to soldiers returning from the war.
“Just listen to their stories, [and] not politicize it, not try to characterize it in any way,” he said.
When asked what she hopes the outcome of Friday’s events will be, Feeley responded, “It’s dishonest to say … Orange Friday is going to stop the war – that’s a misconception. There are other things that we’re doing that will hopefully collect [and] add up.”
Feeley said that right now, she and the others are intent upon “raising consciousness, building a community of people who feel strongly about this issue … being responsible citizens.
“I think that if we’re doing all these things all the time, we can’t help but stop the war,” she said.
Along with individual organizers, Cornell for Peace and Justice helped to plan Orange Friday.
Archived article by Xiaowei Cathy Tang
Sun Senior Editor