The 19th of March, 2008 marks the beginning of the sixth year of the US war and occupation in Iraq. Hundreds of actions against the war and occupation are planned throughout the United States, including civil disobedience in DC and protests around the country. The primary group organizing antiwar actions on campus is Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Recently, Kati Ketz of UNC-Asheville SDS and the March 20th SDS Working Group, Robin Markle from Drew University SDS in Madison, New Jersey, and I exchanged emails regarding the SDS plans and the war..
Ron: Hi Kati. How are you doing? Let’s get right to the chase. Can you tell me what the plan is to mark the beginning of the sixth year of war and occupation in Iraq in March?
Kati: SDS is again putting out a call for students to take action, this time a week of action between March 17th-21st in order to protest 5 years of war in Iraq. We are focusing on March 20th as a student and youth specific day of action, where schools will be having walk-outs or rallies and protests on their campuses and in their cities.
Ron: Is SDS the primary force behind these planned protests? If so, how can non-students participate? As you know, the two main national networks against the war and occupation were going to hold a national protest in DC and a couple other cities but decided not to. Instead, there is a call by UFPJ to come to a civil disobedience action in DC–a noble gesture to be sure but not the mass protest I think is needed.
Kati: SDS is the group that put out this call to action, and a slight majority of groups that are participating are SDS chapters. We are asking students that are on spring break during this time to get in touch with DC SDS to see how they can plug into the UFPJ (United for Peace and Justice) civil disobedience action in DC. Non-students can support student protests on campuses and cities by finding out what is going on in their cities, mobilizing for protests, and helping student groups put together rallies. Non-student organizations can also help by endorsing the call to action.
Students and youth are an important part of the broader anti-war community. We are putting out this call aimed at mostly students and youth to take actions locally and on the campuses in order to get even more students involved and to build a broader student movement.
Ron: I notice that UNC-Asheville SDS is working with the local Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). In fact, you all did a counter-recruitment action a couple weeks ago that included some pretty effective guerrilla theater from the IVAW. This seems like a natural coalition given the numbers of returning vets going to school, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of campuses where SDS and IVAW are working together. How did you all start doing work together at UNC-Asheville?
Kati: It seemed natural to our SDS group that when the IVAW-Asheville group started up in November of 2007 that we invite some of their members to speak on our campus. From that, a couple of members of IVAW-Asheville started coming to SDS meetings and getting involved in our actions on campus, which led to the counter-recruitment action we did recently. During this counter-recruitment action, we staged a mock Iraq raid based on what one member of IVAW-Asheville witnessed firsthand, with a family of Iraqi people being zip-tied and asked for information that they did not have before being carried away.
Coalition building is an important part of building and strengthening the anti-war movement in general. If we remain divided we will never be able to do our part in helping end the war in Iraq.
Ron: Looking at the broader picture, where do you think the antiwar movement needs to go next? We’re in the middle of an election year with one candidate (John McCain) an outspoken war hawk and the two other leading candidates (Obama and Clinton) claiming to be against the war despite the fact that neither of them has ever voted against funding continued operations in Iraq or Afghanistan. Nonetheless, it seems like a lot of the liberal wing of the antiwar movement is jumping on the Democrats bandwagon. Consequently, the movement itself seems to be dormant. Is this the case from your perspective?
Robin: I don’t think we can rely on the government to stop the war, despite what politicians may say when they’re on the campaign trail. I’m really excited about the Iraq Moratorium campaign , which invites anti-war activists to hold actions the third Friday of every month in their communities. I think that locally-based grassroots actions like these, with people talking to their friends, co-workers and neighbors, is our best strategy for steadily growing the movement until it’s something that politicians can’t simply pay lip service to.
Kati: From my perspective at UNC-Asheville, it seems that although some students are very much swept up in the election process most students remember what happened in 2006 when they put their faith in the Democrats–the Democrats failed to do anything about the war. Because it’s an election year it seems that the student body is becoming more politicized and wanting to be more active about issues such as the war in Iraq.
Ron: On a similar vein, what is the SDS position on the election?
Kati: There isn’t much of a united position on the elections from SDS as a national organization. What we are doing at UNC-Asheville is trying to involve students from groups such as the Young Democrats or Students for Obama in the March 20th protest while still putting out in literature and teach-ins that we do not believe the Democrats will do much to end the war, as they have done virtually nothing thus far.
Ron: Do you get a sense that the main motivation for young people getting involved with the election campaign is ending the war?
Robin: No, the young people I know are getting involved or excited about this election for a number of reasons. A lot of students are concerned about growing inequality and poverty, and the student environmental movement is also really taking off right now. The war is more controversial, complicated and confusing than some of these other issues. I think a lot of students who opposed the war before it began or who opposed it by the time of the 2004 election also feel very disillusioned about the democratic process being honored in this country – we’ve BEEN campaigning for the war to stop, and the government hasn’t listened to us. Despite these obstacles, there is still a very strong student/youth anti-war movement, and many youth voters will be thinking about the war when they enter the voting booth in November.
Ron: What’s your take on how those of us only tangentially interested in the elections should respond to those individuals that are opposed to the wars but are actively involved in campaigning for one of the candidates?
Kati: I think that we should try to pull those people who are against the war into our movement–that is how movements grow. We should try to work with anybody who is against the war without compromising our political beliefs around the elections. Many anti-war Democrats joined the anti-war movement after what happened in 2006 and the same could happen in 2009.
Ron: What do you think lies in store for the student movement over the next few months? Can it provide a spark to the rest of the movement so that we’re ready for the post-election reality?
Kati: I think that the student movement will continue to grow over the next few months. With the actions against the 5th anniversary of the war looming combined with frustration at the electoral process, I believe that we will see many more students hitting the streets in protest. The upcoming Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota will be another major part of student protests in the next few months. If one section of the anti-war movement grows and becomes more militant, it will hopefully spark the rest of the movement so that we can become bigger and more militant for whatever happens in 2009.
Ron: Back to the March actions. Once again, what is their intent and where can people find out how to help out and attend the events?
Robin: The intent of the March actions is to remind everyone that – yes! – five years later this war is STILL GOING ON, and it’s not going to end until citizens organize an unstoppable anti-war movement. I’m a senior in college – this war has been being waged in my name, with my tax dollars, since I held my first jobs in high school. It has put my government into a deep debt that I’m going to be paying for for the rest of my life. The draft began for the Vietnam war about five years in – soon I could be asked to pay with my body and my life. These actions are intended to engage lots of youth in thinking about the consequences of the war, and feeling empowered to put go out and DO something to stop it. Not everyone has to be a organizer or a full-time activist. By making the events accessible and easy to participate in to a large number of youth, we hope to facilitate more anti-war youth to feel capable of taking action.
Kati: We are hoping to build up broad student and youth opposition to the war in Iraq through actions taking place on campuses and cities across the United States during the week of March 17th-21st, with major actions happening on March 20th. For more information or to read and endorse the call to action, people should visit our website at www.newsds.org/march20
Ron: Anything else?
Kati: Five years is five too many. We need to stand in solidarity with the people of Iraq and demand for US troops to be out of Iraq now–no peacekeeping forces, no permanent bases, nothing. The movement must recognize and respect the self-determination of the Iraqi people and do our part to end the war.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: email@example.com