On a campus filled with construction machinery, cell phones and campaigning students, silence is a rare thing. Yesterday, however, the University became a little quieter for a Day of Silence to protest U.S. military strikes against Afghanistan.
Wearing black clothes and pins saying “Ask Me Why I”m Silent,” about 50 students went without speaking from the time they woke up until 7:30 p.m., when they gathered on the steps of the Michigan Union to break the silence with a candlelight vigil. During the day, they carried cards explaining their mission to the curious.
At the vigil, LSA sophomore Mike Swiryn shared his experiences of a day without speech.
“It was kind of surreal. The things you notice just blew me away,” Swiryn said.
“I saw people I didn”t even recognize participating and it was just amazing. You see someone you don”t recognize but you”re connected to them,” he explained.
The major concern of the activists who participated in the Day of Silence is what they said is a U.S. failure to deliver adequate humanitarian aid and food to starving Afghans through air drops.
“The civilians don”t know where the food is landing. They”re not getting enough food. It”s an atrocity. It”s appalling,” said LSA junior Ariya Kelly, a member of the University”s Environmental Justice Group and a participant in the protest.
“We should have more dialogue, more international discourse, among the nations engaged in the war against terrorism, on alternative methods,” she added.
“We have our priorities skewed,” said LSA freshman Emily Squires, a member of Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality.
“Our priority needs to be the humanitarian issue going on right now,” she said.
SOLE, the primary sponsor of the Day of Silence, joined with several other activist groups including the Muslim Students Association, Students for a Peaceful Alternative and the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice in holding the protest.
“Our goal was to bring student activists across campus together with a purpose,” said LSA freshman Kristin McRay.
The Day of Silence was part of a national Day of Action for Peace called for by the National Youth and Student Coalition for Peace. Activists on college campuses across the country were encouraged to organize in opposition to the war.
Participants in the protest who needed to speak for classes were allowed to do so.
“It”s on an individual level. I don”t have any discussions today so it won”t be a problem for me,” Squires said.
“Some people have oral midterms, and they have to participate that”s OK,” said Kelly.
“It”s supposed to be about the public arena, not the academic arena,” she explained.
“The people in my classes were really supportive and helpful,” McRay said.
Students said silence is a powerful way to create awareness because it is unlike traditional methods of protest.
“It”s a new tool, it”s something different than your traditional rally,” Kelly said. “It”s so hard to be silent today, so it”s a sacrifice.”
“This is a really serious and solemn issue, and of all the actions people could take, this seems to be the most appropriate,” said Swiryn.