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Stanford Report, January 22, 2003

Anti-war rally draws 400 to White Plaza in prelude to nationwide demonstrations


A noon anti-war rally Thursday in White Plaza drew approximately 400 students, faculty and staff, many carrying signs protesting a possible U.S. military strike in Iraq. The event drew a much smaller counter-demonstration -- about two dozen people, mostly students, carried placards supporting Bush administration policy.

Students Amy McGuire, Kellea Miller, Joanna Petrone and Jonathan Vorm stood alongside Professor Emeritus Charles Stein during a campus rally against a possible war with Iraq. Protesters held the event to mobilize participation in a larger demonstration held Saturday in San Francisco. Photo: L.A. Cicero

Members of the Stanford Community for Peace and Justice organized the event, which ended with a march by about 300 people -- chanting "Our World, Their War " -- through Lasuen Mall to Hoover Tower.

More than a half-dozen faculty and students representing environmental, labor and other groups spoke at White Plaza and on the Hoover Tower lawn; they criticized the Bush administration and questioned ties between the Hoover Institution and the university.

At White Plaza on Thursday, Joel Beinin, professor of history, accused members of the Bush administration of using the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and weapons inspections in Iraq to whip up public sentiment for a war.

The primary reason the United States wants to launch a war is to gain "crude, strategic military power," Beinin said. The U.S. economic front may soon be challenged by Europe and Japan, he said. "By asserting military dominance, the U.S. can assert global dominance."

"The issue is not Iraq. Iraq is only one piece in the chess game of war," said Tom Sheehan, professor of religious studies, who also spoke at the campus rally. "The ultimate goals are American empire and global hegemony. Under [Vice President Dick] Cheney and [Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul] Wolfowitz, the American Republic has become the American Empire. And James Madison's Bill of Rights has become the Patriot Act," he said.

"It's been the policy of the United States for the past century to pursue freedom. We did it in World War II and we did it against Communism," said Bob Sensenbrenner, communications director for the Stanford College Republicans, which organized the campus counter-demonstration. The administration's policy is continuing the pursuit of freedom across the world," he added.

"I have mixed protests about the protest mentality," said student Ryan McWilliams, who carried no sign, but stayed to listen to 90 minutes of speeches. "I'd support it more if there was a focus on a positive vision of the future. I'd like it if everyone would stop for a minute to think about their own vision of utopia and what they can do to work toward that."

The rally and counter-demonstrations was noisy but generally peaceful, although a sign carried by Kerstin Johnsson, who appeared with supporters of the administration, sparked a few minutes of heated debate after the rally. The sign quoted Martin Luther King Jr.: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Several students pointed out that the civil rights leader was known for advocating non-violent resistance to racial injustice and for his opposition to war.

Thursday's rally was organized to mobilize participation in a "No War in Iraq" mass protest Saturday in San Francisco, which police estimated drew 55,000 people. Thousands of people marched in Washington, D.C., and other U.S. cities and across the globe on Saturday.

On Saturday morning, approximately 30 students met at White Plaza at 9 a.m. and walked behind a flagpole bearing an American flag and a flag depicting the Earth to the Palo Alto train station, where they and dozens more students boarded buses to San Francisco. Other students planned to attend the rally, but drove their own cars, said Calvin Miaw, a coordinator for the Stanford Community for Peace and Justice.

"There used to be about seven of us who went to rallies," said senior Jessica Jenkins, as she walked with other protest participants down Palm Drive on Saturday morning. Editor-in-chief of Street Forum, a student-run alternative newspaper, Jenkins said she was struck with the diversity of the crowd at the campus rally, as well as by its size. "I saw a lot of people there I didn't expect to see."

Early Saturday, Jenkins said she didn't expect the San Francisco rally and other protests to have a significant effect on policy. "Intellectually, I don't think it will make much of a difference. But I can't not be there," she said. After seeing the large numbers of people participating in the rally, in San Francisco and elsewhere, she said she changed her mind.

"The numbers [of protesters] are unprecedented since the Vietnam War," said Jenkins on Monday. "Hopefully, it will have an impact on the decisions that will be made in the next few weeks." Coverage by the mainstream media has increased since similar protests were held last year, she added.