Hundreds of University students walked out of their classes on Wednesday to protest military action in Iraq, joining students and faculty at more than 300 schools across the country in opposing a possible war. A variety of activities kept class-free protesters busy throughout the day, including a teach-in at Rockefeller Chapel, an antiwar rally downtown, and a late night vigil outside the Administration Building.
Students from the group No War in Iraq started planning the walkout in early December when war seemed imminent, originally intending to hold the protest the day after the United States dropped its first bombs in Iraq. The national group that spearheaded the protest, BLANK, decided that the walk-out would be held on March 5 if no military assault had yet begun, as negotiations in the United Nations stalled war for an indefinite period of time.
"This is a moment of symbolic opposition to the war against Iraq. We want people to realize that this war will affect their daily lives, not just academic projects like papers and problems sets," said Michal Ran, a second-year in the College who was standing outside of Cobb distributing literature against the war on Wednesday.
Ran and four other students spent the night in a tent on the quads to display their disagreement with the Bush administration's policies.
Although it is difficult to estimate the actual number of students who walked out of their classes, student protesters described the community's response as encouraging. "I've been a part of a lot of tablings, and I've noticed we've gotten a lot of verbal support for this one," Ran said. "I'm used to getting negative reactions for these sorts of things, but the reaction of the student body toward us seems to be very positive."
Many faculty and administrators have also been supportive of the walkout. Several classes were cancelled, particularly in the Romance Languages and Literatures and Mathematics departments, to demonstrate solidarity between staff and students in the University community.
One student said that his professor held class only to provide an opportunity for students to walk out.
Protest organizers were realistic about the walkout however, realizing that many students who wanted to walk out felt that they could not neglect their academic commitments. These students were given light blue ribbons. Faculty members unable to attend the protest also received the light ribbons, while students who actually walked out of class wore dark blue ribbons.
"It's ninth week, which makes it very difficult for some people to miss class," said Laura Horovitz, a third-year in the College.
The day was not without bizarre moments. A student clad only in boxers chained himself to the flagpole on the main quadrangle for several hours, though the cold eventually forced him back indoors.
In the Reynolds Club, roughly 25 students lined the floor outside Hutchinson Commons to represent the possible Iraqi deaths that a war would produce.
"Traditionally die-ins last until everyone gets arrested, but we didn't want to go that far because we really don't have anything against the University," said Nick Juravich, a first-year in the College who participated in the die-in. "It was more an act of dramatization than of civil disobedience."
In the afternoon Rockefeller Chapel was packed, standing room only, for the faculty-led teach-in. Enthusiastic community members beat drums and held signs as faculty speakers, including John Mearsheimer and Kenneth Warren, took the podium to denounce the war in Iraq. The ideas expressed at the teach-in ranged from humanitarian concern for Iraqi citizens to the strategic shortcomings of Bush's military strategy, but the overwhelming sentiment was that popular protest, like the national walkout, was essential to stop a potential war in the Middle East.
"I think our goal was to promote discussion on campus about the issue, and I think we were successful in that," said Samantha Iyer, a third-year in the College and an organizer of the walkout. "We wanted to get people involved, and I think the speakers were good at pointing out that the public can pressure the government to stop or at least slow the war."
Some students filed out of the Chapel at 4:30 p.m. and into buses headed downtown to join between 4,000 to 6,000 protesters from over 30 other schools in the Chicago area in a march at Federal Plaza.
"It was very successful," said Jonah Rubin of the march. "More people showed up than the organizers or the police expected. The bystanders were also very supportive, cheering us on and waving signs."
Despite the apparent successes of the walkout, not all University members seemed to share the protesters' anti-war sentiments. Flyers intending to mock the intentions of protesters were posted around campus. The flyers resembled the walkout's advertisement but instead contained phrases like, "come support clichéd liberal behavior at Rockefeller Chapel."