April 17, 2007

Grad student to walk 700 miles in Iraq protest

U of C graduate student Mario Peñalver is planning a roughly 700-mile march from Chicago to Washington D.C. under the motto, “Impeach the president and the war.” Spanning Millennium Park to the Lincoln Memorial, the walk is intended to protest political alienation as much as the war and conduct of the President.

As a junior at the Pacific Lutheran University in 2003, Peñalver tried unsuccessfully to organize a march in a similar spirit. This time he has received a more encouraging response and is positive that others will join him—“The question is how many,” he said. The route-planning process is ongoing, and will depend on the responses of the volunteer groups that have offered to host Peñalver over the course of his walk.

Peñalver cited familiar complaints against current leadership and the Iraq war as his justification for the walk. He said President Bush rushed into the war, and that a commitment to “finish what we started” in Iraq hinged on faulty reasoning and has resulted in a substantial loss of life.

Aware that his walk will not achieve its stated goal, impeachment, Peñalver emphasized the power of political protest. Asked if he thought that President Bush would ever withdraw troops from Iraq, Peñalver replied, “No. He’s said a million times that he wouldn’t.” But he rejected the notion that the march was naive or impractical, explaining that individuals who have been seen as impractical in their time have always been the ones to change society for the better.

Peñalver also explained that most people he speaks with share his bitter views on the war, but “hold back” their protest out of a perceived feeling of helplessness and disempowerment. He spoke of the failure of multiple letter-writing campaigns and petitions and a resulting lack of faith in affecting change. “I’ve heard it [from different people] all over: ‘There’s nothing I can do,’” he said.