More than 800 people joined to advocate mounting disdain for the potential war on Iraq at an anti-war conference this weekend. University students, Ann Arbor residents, journalists and political activists came to the Law School to listen and participate in the conference organized by Anti-War Action! and the Muslim Students’ Association.
After an opening speech by Mahdi Bray, a civil and human rights activist, various lectures and panels explored topics such as the historical background of the Iraq conflict and the impact of war.
Engineering junior Molly Hegarty, a transfer student from the Rochester Institute of Technology, said she was happy to find a politically active community on this campus.
“This conference is so cool because it’s a diverse group of older people, students and professional people getting together and getting informed,” Hegarty said. “Every campus should have something like this.”
One of Saturday’s 19 speakers, Andrea Buffa, coordinator for the United for Peace organization, spoke about wartime journalistic failures and emphasized the need for accurate reporting of the anti-war movement.
“If we could get the media to cover the fact that there is an anti-war movement, people would feel more comfortable getting involved,” Buffa said.
She added the media’s drive for profit and inherent bias both perpetuate the lack of coverage.
Speaking in the panel discussion of “The War at Home,” Riva Enteen, program director of the San Francisco chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, addressed the vulnerability of immigrants, saying they are often profiled as terrorists who subsequently face deportation.
“(Anti-war activists) have to be on the street, we have the numbers and we have the moral high ground,” Enteen said. “We shouldn’t be frightened of terror, we should be frightened of repression.”
Ann Arbor resident Leon Cribbins said he enjoyed history of science Prof. Susan Wright’s lecture, “Iraq, Biological Weapons, and the Rush to Preemptive War.”
“What I thought was powerful was when she said that economic sanctions are a form of weapons of mass destruction,” Cribbins said. “It’s just interesting to hear these kinds of lectures.”
Local speakers were also represented at the anti-war conference. Detroit activist Maureen Taylor, president of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, asked the audience “where’s the money?” referring to the rise in military defense funding in the midst of an economic slump.
“Students go to college and everyone’s studying because they expect a job afterward, but they can’t find one,” Taylor said. “Instead they are still paying money that goes to the defense department.”
Max Sussman, event organizer and AWA! member, said he was extremely happy with the outcome of the conference and said he knew of a few attendants that were not anti-war.
“Some of the speakers asked the audience if there were any people in the audience that were for the war and a few people raised their hands,” Sussman said. “The majority of the people there were against the war and wanted to learn about the war in general and talk about all the issues.”
Bill Thomson, a clinical psychology professor at the University’s Dearborn campus spoke about the arrogance of the U.S. when it comes to foreign policy.
“We must do something about the arrogance of (the) U.S.,” Thomson said. “We must also cut the defense budget by at least 15 percent.”
On Sunday, denoted as “Activate” day, 11 workshops were held to teach attendants on political activism, its history and influence in U.S. foreign policy.
“Sunday was more about how to actualize and turn knowledge into action, and have a forum,” Sussman said.
“It was to inspire and really make people take part in something than just listen and think.”
Hiba Ghalib, MSA member and event organizer, said she was pleased with the outcome of the conference.
“I was really happy with the turnout,” Ghalib said. “I thought it was a success.”