Students plan March 5 walkout protesting U.S. war against Iraq

By Benjamin Hellwege

A small but determined group of students here at the U of C have banded together to protest an increasingly possible U.S. war with Iraq. The students, who have created an online petition for students to sign and show their disapproval of U.S. policy toward Iraq, are planning to hold a walkout from their classes and a teach-in within the next few weeks.

“While not all of our members agree as to the reasons why the war on Iraq is unjust, we are all united in our opposition to the war,” said Wesley Pegden, a second-year in the College and one of the leaders of the University of Chicago Students Against the War on Iraq group (UCSAWI).

According to Pegden, the online petition was set up during this year’s holiday break, and was made public approximately two weeks ago. The petition currently includes the signatures of some 181 U of C students, as well as six faculty and 12 staff members.

While UCSAWI is not officially a Registered Student Organization (RSO), it has been working with several other RSOs such as the Young Democratic Socialists and Creative Progressive Action. Despite being a relatively new group, the UCSAWI boasts a mailing list of 250 students, as well as 20 faculty members and University administrators.

Beyond its online petition, the UCSAWI is also tentatively planning to hold a walkout from classes on March 5 or the day after a war on Iraq begins, depending on which arises first. The focus of the walkout is not to protest the University of Chicago or any of its policies but, rather, to draw attention to the ramifications of the U.S.-Iraq conflict.

The UCSAWI is not limiting its efforts solely to the U of C campus. Within metropolitan Chicago, the UCSAWI is working with two student anti-war networks: the Chicagoans Against War in Iraq and the Students for Social Justice.

The planned March 5 walkout is part of nationwide effort organized by the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition, a large umbrella organization that encompasses groups as diverse as the Young Communist League and the United Students Against Sweatshops.

“In addition to the walkout, we are planning to have a teach-in at Rockefeller Chapel,” said Samantha Iyer, a third-year in the College and another leader of the UCSAWI. “During the teach-in, we are planning to have several U of C professors speak about the war, as well as other related matters. Our possible speakers include Professors Rashid Khalidi and Kenneth Warren, as well as [Dean of Rockefeller Chapel] Alison Boden.”

According to Boden, individual members of the Rockefeller Chapel staff have tried to be supportive of the UCSAWI.

“I, for instance, have contributed a sermon I preached last quarter to a journal of faculty opinions that they are producing,” Boden said. “As for the teach-in on the fifth of March, I hope that many in the University community will take the opportunity to learn more about the situation, to share information and feelings about the war, and to commit themselves to non-violent responses to domestic and international problems.”

The teach-in, while mostly for U of C students protesting the war, will also be open to members of the community who would like to hear about and discuss the war. There are currently no plans for speakers apart from the U of C professors, but the UCSAWI is planning to invite media to cover the teach-in. After the teach-in concludes, the day will be capped by an anti-war rally in downtown Chicago.

“In the end, we want the teach-in to be a sort of alternative education,” Iyer said. “We want to make more people aware of the many ramifications of this very important issue, and we’d like to do it in a thoughtful and constructive way.”