I have watched over these last years of the war in Iraq as my alma mater has remained largely silent in the debate over how to oppose and end the war. I have attended protests that display a vague shadow of what this university once stood for in terms of free speech and activism on major national issues, especially war.
We now seem poised at the brink of a war that could ignite the Middle East in a regional conflict that will undoubtedly have generational consequences. The signs indicate that Iran is next on President Bush’s hit list and the powerless commentary from both our representatives and ourselves may prove in retrospect a great mistake, a historic missed opportunity.
With so much at stake, why has there been so little activism at what was once one of the home of the, “Free Speech Movement,” the “Berkeley of the Midwest.” The attendance of about 1,000 students at a recent event labeled as a talk by former terrorists speaks to the ill-informed nature of our campus. In contrast, a discussion led by experts in the history department about the realities of the war drew only about 70 people. Also, recent peace marches in Ann Arbor have been pathetic, considering that the University has 40,000 students.
Where is the intellectual curiosity and thoughtful critique from the faculty? Why do they not participate in demonstrations let alone get out in front and lead them? One of my majors was anthropology, and I can think of no department with more at stake. Yet it was only recently that the history professors managed to issue a declaration this year opposing the war. How many scholars will not come here to teach for reasons of conscience dictated by our new homeland security state? The consequences for the University and its students are profound. If this is not of critical significance, then what is?
I did not attend the most recent demonstration in Washington, which drew about 100,000 protesters, because after having gone to both D.C. and New York City twice, I could not bear to watch another futile gesture. If this is the height of resistance, the peace movement has failed. Our government will continue to ignore the public as it slides toward a war that no one wants. War with Iran will be catastrophic, and yet there will likely be little opportunity to protest, let alone stop it.
Three million people took to the streets for a baseball championship – it will take at least that many to stop a war, and they must act with purpose. On Feb. 15, 2003, the world spoke to the president in New York City. About 500,000 people took to the streets to show the United Nations that not all Americans support the war in Iraq. However, rather than being allowed in sight of the U.N., we were chased through the streets and assaulted by police, while others were illegally penned for hours.
One million protestors sat down in London, millions more around the world have rallied for peace and the Bush Administration has ignored all of these voices. When I returned to New York for the Republican National Convention in 2004, demonstrators were denied the right to enter Central Park for the sake of the lawn. We walked about town and then returned home to neighbors who had no idea that a protest had even occurred.
Under the Patriot Act, it is a crime to intimidate the government, which seems to foreshadow future suppression of demonstrations and civil disobedience. Tempting fate. I would say it is time to intimidate a government that acts in the interest of few to the detriment of many. This administration is one that acts in secrecy and seeks control through manipulation and deception.
Now we hear the drumbeat to war in Iran – a bombing campaign that will spare us the casualties of ground warfare. Who doubts that a larger war is inevitable? Many more Americans are yet to be put into Sen. Chuck Hagel’s (R-Neb.) “grinder.” Wake up, University students, before you wake to a nightmare, a horrible dream that will soon be all too real.
Oscar Marx is a University alum with degrees in history and cultural anthropology.