From 99-year-old World War II veteran Frank Freedman all the way down to babies in strollers, protesters of all ages gathered in Ann Arbor to protest the war in Iraq on its third anniversary yesterday. But student turnout was surprisingly weak, given that the city is home to about 40,000 college students.
Bundled up against a cold March wind, a group of about 1,000 people listened to antiwar speeches, music and slam poetry on the Diag.
Michigan Peaceworks, which co-sponsored the event, was taking mug shots of the protesters in response to recent revelations that the FBI and other law enforcement organizations investigated antiwar groups. The group plans to deliver the photographs to the Department of Homeland Security to “ease the workload of NSA employees engrossed in eavesdropping,” the group said in an apparently tounge-in-cheek statement.
After the rally, attendees marched to Main Street before returning to the Diag and dispersing.
Veterans for Peace and the University’s College Democrats also co-sponsored the rally and march, which at one point stretched down East William Street for six blocks.
As the marchers made their way through Ann Arbor, they chanted anti-war slogans, beat drums made from buckets and carried signs saying “Impeach Bush,” “Peace Now” and “Spontaneous Presidential Combustion. Believe!”
People stopped and watched. Some applauded and waved, while others stared in silence. A few even joined the march.
Ann Arbor’s protest was one of many around the world this weekend. On Saturday, over 1,000 people gathered in New York City’s Times Square, while 7,000 marched in Chicago to protest the war. But despite increased public opposition and an escalation of the conflict, protest turnout in Australia, Asia and Europe failed to meet expectations. Fifteen-thousand people marched through London this year, while 45,000 attended similar events on last year’s anniversary.
With face-painting for children and performances by local bands, the Ann Arbor crowd seemed largely upbeat and excited. But at times the mood was decidedly somber, such as during City Council Member and mayoral candidate Wendy Woods’ (D-Ward 5)’s speech about the sacrifices of Michigan troops.
Despite the diversity and size of the crowd, many observers remarked on the relatively weak student presence.
LSA sophomores Jason Davila and Matt Devine came out of their house on East William Street when they heard the chanting and drumming of the passing marchers.
“There aren’t many students,” said Devine, clad in a T-shirt and pajama pants.
Still, the size of the march impressed East William Street residents, who photographed the procession with their cell phones.
LSA sophomore Jennifer Rothstein was also surprised that students made up just a small proportion of the protesters.
“Maybe they are against it, but they just don’t feel that passionately against it to come out and protest,” said Rothstein, who did not participate in the rally, but said she opposes the war.
Event organizer Hannah Fishman, an LSA sophomore and next year’s secretary of the College Democrats, disagreed, arguing that students played an important role in the protest.
“I’m proud of the student turnout that we got,” Fishman said. “This is a much younger crowd than we’ve had in the past.”
Some students who saw the march agreed with its message, but questioned its effectiveness.
RC senior Tara Smith is against the war, but she did not participate in the rally.
“It’s sad, because whenever they have protest marches in Ann Arbor, it’s just preaching to the choir,” Smith said. “At this point, the message has to be a bit more complicated that just ‘Impeach Bush.’ “
A lack of student involvement did not bother Freedman, who was one of the oldest men to enlist in the American armed forces in World War II.
“I’m here because I’m against war,” Freedman said. “I’ve seen 100 years of it. War only begets war.”