Students of the Meadville Lombard Theological School have recently organized a candlelight vigil protesting the possibility of a war in Iraq. The Corner Project meets every weekday from 8:00 to 8:30 a.m. and 5:00 to 5:30 p.m. on the four corners of 57th and Woodlawn to protest what they believe to be the Bush administration's aggressive foreign policy.
The project is the brainchild of theological students Linda Eppert, Danielle Gerrior, Sara Hayman, and Emilie Schafferman, who learned more about the poverty and suffering of the Iraqi people in a brownbag forum with John Rice, chief of maintenance and adjunct professor at the school.
Rice had traveled extensively in Iraq with "Voices in the Wilderness," an organization that provides medical supplies to needy citizens and works toward ending sanctions in Iraq.
"We were overwhelmed with what we were hearing." Gerrior said. "Within about 10 minutes after [the forum], we came up with the idea."
The organizers were particularly struck by the high rate of mortality among children.
"According to UNICEF, 5,000 children per month are dying, ages five and under," Gerrior said.
The Corner Project vocally opposes current sanctions, which, according to Gerrior, are responsible for the unfavorable economic conditions in Iraq. "The sanctions were meant to cripple the regime but it's not working," Gerrior said.
Gerrior also criticized U.S. oil interests in the region and the consequences they are having on international relations. "North Korea is equally a violent country, but they don't have oil," she said.
Hayman questioned the validity of a war with no clear objective or resolution. "Like the Vietnam War, this is a war that will be prolonged without clear resolution," she said. "Our credibility in the international community is also down the tubes."
Hayman believes that U.S. collaboration with the international community is crucial to a peaceful resolution in Iraq. She advocated further U.S. financial support of international organizations such as the U.N.
"I heard that the U.S. financial commitment to the U.N. is .03 percent," Hayman said.
Although the principal organizers are opposed to a war against Iraq, they support some form of action in the region. Gerrior alluded to Hussein's alleged bombing of the Kurds in northern Iraq, noting: "There is a distinction between no response and non-violent response. Saddam has committed many human rights violations," she said.
Currently, the Meadville Lombard Theological School has not taken an institutional position on the war. The students are petitioning the school's administrators to issue a formal statement concerning Iraq. "Today, we're taking a stand as individuals," Hayman said.
Some students are not pacifists and support the military but do not endorse the war effort. "I don't want people to think I'm against the military; I had a friend that almost went over there," said Craig Schwahenberg, a second-year in the Meadville Lombard Theological School.
Schwahenberg's friend refused to go to Iraq on moral grounds and was subsequently removed from his unit. He was later dismissed from his position as a drill sergeant for personal reasons.
"He didn't want to send people he was training without being there with them," Schwahenberg explained.
The members of the Corner Project are promoting their cause to the Hyde Park community because they feel that not enough anti-war supporters are speaking up. "A lot of people have lost hope with the election. We want to show that there are still people that care," Schafferman said.
The organizers are further concerned by media coverage of the anti-war movement. "When it is there, it's trivialized. It's all about the effects to local business and how to protect yourself from crazy protestors," Gerrior said.
"George Bush has been very skilled in using the media," Hayman added, commenting on her belief that Washington is manipulating media coverage.
Other participants of the corner project oppose the war on strictly moral grounds, arguing that any foreign military involvement is wrong. "I got involved because I feel that this is an immoral and unjust war," said Melissa Ziemer, a second-year student in the Meadville Lombard Theological School.