Those who turned out for yesterday’s “Make Art Not War” rally on the Diag, part of a day-long, nationwide student strike, wanted to paint a beautiful picture of peace – literally.
Protesters spray-painted anti-war signs, read poetry against war and violence and performed protest music. Members of the Royal Shakespeare Company, now in residency at the University, took a break from official performances to show their personal support for the anti-war movement. About 150 spectators turned out to support the performers.
The strike, titled “Books Not Bombs,” included academic lectures on war and the Iraq situation as well as poetry readings, documentary screenings, debates and performances.
Support for the strike came not only from the students who cut classes to show anti-war sentiment but also from supportive faculty. Economics lecturer Frank Thompson, also a lecturer in the RC, told his political economy class that there would not be a surprise quiz and prepared a handout for students who would be skipping his class. He said about half of his class attended yesterday.
“It’s people’s democratic right and duty to express themselves publicly and they should not be penalized for that by professors at a public university. This goes back to the First Amendment – the government cannot prevent peaceable assembly,” he said.
RC senior Paul Kuttner, one of the rally organizers, described the link between art and the anti-war movement.
“The role of art is to express the truth about war as we see it,” he said. “I think art reaches people in a way that politicians and other forms of communication don’t.” Kuttner is a member of Act Out, the local activist theater troupe sponsoring the “Make Art Not War” rally.
RSC performer Patrick Romer said he felt the use of art for the rally was only one element of the larger anti-war movement. “It doesn’t feel to me like it’s the essential message, but it’s a part of the message,” he said. “If it makes more people start talking about it then that’s a good thing.”
Romer and fellow performer Ciaran McIntyre read poems to the crowd about the aftermath of the Allied bombing of Dresden, Germany in 1943 and a poem by W.B. Yeats that dealt with the chaos and anarchy of war.
LSA sophomore Ryan Ford said he thought it was great that people could express their opinions at the rally, but questioned whether art is the most effective means of portraying the major issues.
“I don’t know if it’s helping their cause. I think having Radical Cheerleaders (a group of students who perform anti-war chants) and crazy poetry kind of isolates their group and makes it a radical faction,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to draw mainstream, moderate people into this.”
RC freshman and Anti-War Action! member Ryan Bates, another Act Out organizer, said he understood that the art used at the rally did not directly address the specific issues of the Iraq situation. “I think part of that is a shortcoming. Sometimes we’re so convinced we forget we have to do convincing,” Bates said.
RC junior and Acting Out member Selcen Onsan had another take. “I think if we related this to just Iraq, it would be saying that war is OK in some situations,” she said. “No matter what, war is not justified.”
LSA freshman Libby Benton said she learned a lot from the day’s activities. “It’s about being educated and knowing what you’re opposing,” she said.