Student peace vigil on quads site of property theft over weekend

By Simon Shifrin

The peace vigil on the quads, enduring both erratic Chicago spring weather and the vocal expression of opposing viewpoints over the last three weeks, weathered its second major encounter with property theft this weekend.

The $250 tent staked in front of Ryerson Physical Laboratory was stolen for the second time in three weeks, this time by members of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity.

After being tipped off by a fellow student, Wes Pegden, a second-year in the College who has been living in the tent since the first week of classes this quarter, approached a member of the fraternity late Thursday evening.

According to Pegden, the fraternity member confirmed that the tent was in the Alpha Delt house and that the fraternity would pay for any damages. Pegden also said that fraternity members will meet with administrators today and issue a formal apology.

The president of the fraternity, Michael Tessel, could not be reached for comment by press time.

The tent was encircled by a row of banners announcing a continually updated estimated body count for the war in Iraq, among other things. Pegden and third-year in the College David Gardner declared that the theft would not deter them from remaining on the quads for as long as they think necessary.

”It’s going to take a little more than underhanded tent stealing to get us off the quads,” Pegden said. “We’re planning on being out there tonight.”

Pegden was the only student residing in the tent on Saturday night, since Gardner, had gone home for the weekend, Pegden said. On returning to the quads from a friend’s house at about 2:30 a.m. on Sunday after being gone for a few hours, Pegden immediately saw that the tent and all of the banners had been removed, though his clothes and most of his possessions had been placed in large plastic bags.

An officer from the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) was already on the scene, an indication of the sporadic harassment that the vigil had already experienced. Pegden noted that during the first week of the protest, several signs were ripped down in addition to the first confiscation of the tent, though he said that such hostile acts had generally subsided.

A UCPD report notes that sometime between 12:00 p.m. on April 3 and 9:15 p.m. on April 4 the tent was removed from the quads.

According to Pegden, the tent had been taken several times before and thrown in garbage cans each time. Eventually, however, the person repeatedly removing the tent came forward to claim responsibility, Pegden said.

“He was ridiculously wrong in what he did but–at the very least–honest in what he did,” Pegden said.

The two recent raids on the vigil seem to be anomalies in the general dialogue on campus about the war in Iraq. In fact, formal public debates have been the most conspicuous sign of political disagreement. Many students and administrators have actually been surprised by the general restraint in the war debate.

”I think this year we’ve been impressed by the various voices in the conversation about the war in Iraq and leading up to the war,” said Susan Art, dean of students in the College. “I think we have a campus where individuals feel comfortable coming forward to express their views.”

The vigil has, in fact, resulted in constructive responses from both supporters and critics of the war, according to Pegden. The original purpose of the vigil was simply to spark a useful dialogue about the war, Pegden said, as participants were fully realistic about their inability to affect significant change in public views and policies. But the group anticipated a tolerant public forum to express their views.

”Regardless of their opinion on the war, most people would agree that you have a right to express your opinion,” Pegden said. “I’d encourage people that were for the war and the American occupation [of Iraq] to get out there and express their opinion.”

After the Bush administration declared the end of major combat activity in Iraq, students participating in the vigil have encountered the same questions facing those around the country publicly opposing the war. Protesters were, in effect, left with the question of what exactly they were protesting once the war was essentially declared over. The present aim of the vigil, however, is to remind people that difficulties arising from the war will linger long into the future.

”The human aspects of this war are going to be around for a long time. We’re going to be adding to the [Iraqi] body count for a long time, I’m afraid,” Pegden said. “It’s very easy to sit back and think that [the war is] all over and resolved.”

Until the tent is returned, Pegden and other protestors are relying on another old tent that they have. One staff member at the University has volunteered another tent should the group need it.