Saturday, February 3, 2007

Chicago; Getting Started

"You are doing something so awesome, so needed, and its going to breathtaking."

These are last words spoken to us by our host who has spent the last three days with us in Chicago. She, like us, is deeply worried not only about the current war on Iraq but about Bush's recent escalation, his threats to widen the war against Iran, and the whole theocratic program that he is advancing as he goes. We have spent the evenings talking about music and life...but inevitably the discussion keeps coming back to the necessity for students to really step out and step up to what must become the mission of this generation - to stop the war NOW and drive out the Bush Regime - and how this necessity is growing more urgent every day.

We are still taking in all we've been through in the whirlwind of the first three days of our tour, but already its been a busy and exciting time revealing a lot of promise for the rest of our tour. We spoke at three different campuses to five different groups and a total of 240 people. Plus, we had a party with the most active students and spent the afternoon today with a wonderful group of artists, activists, scientists and professors in an art gallery.

At Columbia College after we spoke about 20 students stuck around into the evening discussing the news that had just come out of the University of Santa Barbara in California and Columbia University in New York City that the two schools will be going on strike on February 15th. After much deliberation and debate the students finally voted overwhelmingly to join the strike on the day that commemorates the largest ever anti-war protests that were held four years ago in countries all over the world.

By the next day they had written a riveting and compelling declaration of their student strike and bold challenge for other campuses to join them. Meanwhile the two of us were off at another school in southern Chicago where we spoke to several African-American Studies, Sociology, and Psychology classes. What was striking is how many of these students who were just attending their regular class were deeply engaged by what we presented and wanted to discuss and even get active. When we asked how many people would do something to stop the war and this regime if they thought it would matter more than three quarters of all students raised their hands.

One of the biggest things confronting the students we've spoken to everywhere is whether anything they do can make a difference to stop the war or drive out the regime. At the same time, a lot of the horrors of this regime have been blunted in people's understanding. Almost no one had heard about the Military Commissions Act and less than half the students remembered Abu-Ghraib. But almost everyone listened with rapt attention and eagerly absorbed the information we had to share.

Liam got a great response each time he told of this week's cover of Time Magazine. After both of us did a tremendous amount of informative exposure, he would explain that the cover of Time says, "Only 750 More Days" till the next election. In other words, never mind that the killing is still going on, never mind trying to do something to stop it now. Wait for 750 more days to hope that some presidential hopeful will do something...maybe.

A handful of students were Iraq vets and several of them were particularly drawn to Liam for this reason.

A couple of young women raised their differences with us by insisting that the U.S. had an obligation to go into Iraq because of how they were so oppressive to women under the Hussein regime. Sunsara walked through the rotating lies that had been used to launch the war on Iraq (first WMD's, then links to al-Qaeda, then "spreading democracy") and how this shows you that the U.S. was never invading "to help women." Further that Iraq had been one of the most secular countries in the region and now Islamic fundamentalism and its attendant oppression and brutality towards women has increased.

These women were like many others who's concern for humanity and about the oppression of women has been manipulated by a criminal regime. But this manipulation is still very thin and the women stayed afterwards, gave their names and wanted to get involved.

The statement from the Columbia College students is below:

Columbia College Declaration of Student Strike on February 15
"In the face of massive opposition to the war and destruction of the Middle East, with global opposition to the legalization and widespread use of torture and illegal detentions, President Bush has announced that he is going forward unapologetically with his proposed troop escalation. Coupled with the 21,000 troop surge has come threats against the sovereign nation of Iran and its diplomats in Iraq. If Bush is allowed to go forward with this, the horrific implications for the people of the world will be irreversible.
"The time has passed to sit on our hands and wait for politicians to step up and stop this. The Democratic Party's refusal to take a stand against this is unacceptable. The debate in this country cannot remain focused on how to fight this war more efficiently: This war is illegal, immoral, and Bush's doctrine of pre-emptive war violates international law.
In the last two years, we've seen countless atrocities carried out on Iraqi civilians, increased violence in Iraq, the annihilation of habeas corpus, and the legalization of torture. As the Bush administration is gearing up for an attack of Iran, waiting two more years for this to stop is unconscionable.
"We will no longer go on with business as usual as if this is not happening. For millions of Iraqis, daily life is characterized by bloodshed and horror. For Iraqi civilians, networking, grades, and career planning are not options. In solidarity with the civilians of Iraq and in opposition to the horrific crimes of our government; we the students of Columbia College Chicago are joining University of California - Santa Barbara and Columbia University by declaring a student strike on February 15. This strike commemorates the largest anti-war protests in human history 4 years ago. We will send a message to the world that we will not be complicit in war crimes. We are no longer asking, but demanding, that the war end now, and the Bush administration be impeached and tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Imagine the impact that a nation-wide student strike will create. The time for business as usual and symbolic protest has passed. We are challenging other students to join us and strike!"

That's it for now -
Sunsara & Liam