Mission accomplished: student protest at recruiting stations

By Macalester Students for a Democratic Society

On Thursday, March 27th 2008, members of Macalester College’s chapter of Students for a Democratic Society registered their dissent and disapproval of the United States’ war in Iraq by non-violently shutting down two military recruitment stations in Minneapolis. We believe there is a responsibility placed upon citizens and privileged college students like ourselves to demand peace when our country’s irresponsible leaders send our sisters, brothers, friends and parents to fight and die in war.As we entered the 6th year of war in Iraq, Macalester Students for a Democratic Society “rose up and locked down” in order to physically and symbolically stop mechanisms that enable the continuation of war. Congress has failed to cut off funding for this illegal war, so we attempted to cut off other sources that fuel it. So, at 9am, before recruitment stations opened for the day, 8 Macalester students locked themselves to the doors of neighboring Army and Navy recruitment stations.

Throughout the day of civil disobedience, potential recruits arrived at the stations to find that the lock down had resulted in the cancellation of their appointments; this directly contradicts claims that the stations had planned on being closed. Speaking on behalf of those participating in the protest, our media liaisons were interviewed by television stations, newspapers and other media throughout the day. The act of civil disobedience was covered widely in the media and even ran as the lead story of the nightly news on three mainstream television stations. The Macalester SDS’s official press release was distributed to students present at the protest and to the newsrooms of numerous local and national media outlets and was read aloud when the march from Coffman Union arrived with over 200 supporters.

The lies used to manipulate our country into war have been accepted and forgotten while the increasingly frequent exposures of massive popular uprising in Iraq continue to be simply classified as small, rebellious groups of “insurgents”. At the same time, the growth, prominence and courage of Iraq Veterans Against the War chapters across the country and the 2008 Winter Soldier Testimonies demonstrate a growing internal opposition to the war. We respect and value the sacrifices of soldiers and veterans. In no way do we aim to attack their service, but rather the administration’s lies that built this war and the deceptive tactics of military recruitment.

As the total number of U.S. troop deaths passed 4,000 lives, we reflected on how our friends, relatives and classmates are unnecessarily in Iraq along with thousands of other young people, fighting a war that needs to end now! We demand that the U.S. government bring our sisters and brothers in the service home immediately and that they are cared for and provided sufficient financial assistance for their service once they return.

Recently, reports have been estimating that the Iraqi civilian death toll has passed 1,000,000 deaths with no end in sight and the total number displaced by the war is in the vicinity of 4,000,000 people. The U.S. government officials responsible for the violence and destruction need to be held accountable in addition to providing honest, no-strings-attached assistance for reconstruction. This war is an atrocity that has affected Iraq and its people in ways we will never be able to comprehend.

U.S. government-funded military recruitment targets people who cannot afford the increasing costs of living and/or the costs of higher education, while failing to adequately provide young people with alternative means of obtaining necessary skills for the future. We believe that shutting down recruiting stations throws a wrench into the gears of a system that fails to support its young people (students, workers and such) who are in need of financial assistance.

We believe, for the above reasons and more, that this war is a disgrace; it is an illegal occupation of Iraq which has killed at least a million Iraqis and thousands of American troops. We have marked anniversary after anniversary, hoping that someone in charge will hear our screaming voices and realize that the people of Iraq and all people have a basic right to self-determination and autonomy. Our voices have not been heard; so now, by physically locking ourselves to a recruiting station, we demand that all United States troops be withdrawn and the Iraqi people be given complete control of their country, free from foreign occupation and influence.

Macalester SDS was extremely pleased with the amount of attention the protest drew. However, efforts to articulate our views on the war in Iraq, supporting our troops and veterans, Iraqi self-determination and the upcoming presidential election often were swept under the rug while locks around necks and arrests nearby created media feeding frenzies. By ignoring the demands made by the action and the motivations behind it, certain media sources portrayed SDS and the lockdown action as childish, meritless, and silly.

In many media sources reporting on our action, our statements about the action were reduced to one or two ill-chosen quotations. One widely distributed article, quoting us only once, closes by pompously saying that we didn’t protest on the official anniversary because “we were on spring break”. Framing a lone quote from the protesters in such condescending context implies that Macalester students are lazy, uncommitted and have other priorities. What the article fails to mention is that March 27th was the Twin Cities Day of Student Action Against the War. We chose this day to act against the war so as to do so in conjunction with other anti-war groups across the cities. It is true that we were on spring break during the official anniversary of the war; many of us returned to our hometowns, while others stayed in Minnesota and prepared to lock down. Many SDS members were involved in non-SDS actions throughout the week of spring break, whether here in the Twin Cities or at home. We were extremely disappointed to find that in some coverage our protest and beliefs were reduced to only one quote; such reduction and simplification distracts from the seriousness of our actions and intentions.

It also seems that our attitude toward counter-protesters and opposing opinions may be misunderstood. During the protest, we had the chance to talk with counter-protesters, many of whom were students and young veterans. The counter-protesters said that they were mostly worried about vandalism at the recruiting stations. With a few exceptions, protesters and counter-protesters were able to have peaceful, intelligent conversations about different interpretations of supporting the troops. While we all obviously never agreed on what that means, people with many different beliefs reached a higher understanding that we all care about peoples’ lives and we should not lose sight of that. As one of the counter-protesters was leaving at the end of the day, he thanked our group for being levelheaded and committed to what we believe in, even if he disagrees with our approach and views. The protest demonstrated that people can be rational and profoundly kind to each other, even in a confrontational, polarized situation like a lock down at recruiting stations.

Macalester Students for a Democratic Society declare Mission Accomplished because we were able to close the recruiting stations non-violently, avoiding arrest while publicizing our demands. Locking down was not merely a symbolic gesture: we took matters into our own hands by physically stopping military recruitment and thus the “business of war” at this particular station on this day. We used this opportunity to demand that this government, which claims to represent us, end the war and occupation of Iraq; to demand an end to misleading recruiting practices; to demand that our veterans come home, not to government neglect, but to adequate financial, mental, emotional, and medical support. We hope that people all over the
world will continue to join the global anti-war movement, work together, and support each other in a diversity of tactics that demand an end to this country’s illegal, unethical, and disgraceful war on Iraq and the Iraqi people.