Attempting to reinvigorate a previously subdued antiwar movement on campus, a coalition of student leaders from Yale and the University of New Haven declared Saturday afternoon that “our generation’s battle” is to oppose the war in Iraq.
The kickoff rally, sponsored by the new group Yale Opposes the War, came during an afternoon of 24 simultaneous statewide antiwar gatherings. The events were designed to “add to the ammunition” of resistance to the Iraq war, as Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd described it in a live conference call at the event.
“We are here, everybody, because there is something we can do about [the war],” rally co-leader Ben Lazarus ’10 said during a series of student speeches that kicked off the event. “We’ve been paying the cost of our inaction every day … we’re not doing our job if we’re not holding our leaders to the task.”
The gathering was notable for its wide range of campus sponsorship, attracting representatives from the Yale College Democrats, Yale Peace, the Undergraduate Organizing Committee, Jews for Justice, the Liberal Party of the Yale Political Union, several city groups and antiwar organizations from nearby colleges. During the event, former senatorial candidate Ned Lamont SOM ’80, U.S. Rep. John Larson and Dodd spoke to the group via speakerphone and expressed their enthusiasm for a Connecticut student antiwar movement. Lamont also offered praise for presidential candidate Dodd, saying that America would be “much better off with his hands on the wheel.”
Organizer Sarah Turbow ’10 said she was excited to see disparate groups uniting around a single issue.
“I’m not sure why the issue hasn’t been addressed this way before,” she said. “Though several groups have done excellent work surrounding the war in Iraq individually, the idea is to get all the organizations on campus together on this one issue so we can create a bigger and better movement.”
Although the group expressed no clear consensus as to what action should be taken next, some attendees stayed in the common room after the rally to discuss various strategies — from Facebook.com and blogs to rallies and marches — to promote the antiwar cause. Yale College Democrats President Eric Kafka ’08 said that the coalition “is not going to proscribe any one method of activism.”
Ryan Roach, a senior from the University of New Haven, said it was the first time he had felt the impetus to travel to another college to support a cause, and he was compelled to “branch out” from a desire to “get a dialogue going.”
“This is the most important issue in my lifetime,” he said, adding that he doesn’t “want to wait until we get another president” before there can be meaningful debate to find a solution for bringing the conflict to a close.
Roach said there about 50 students at his university who are actively involved in opposing the war. About half a dozen were at Yale on Saturday.
Theo Spielberg ’10 said he attended the kickoff although he wasn’t involved in any specific groups that had organized it because he thought action could come out of a united Yale front arguing for an immediate end to the war.
“We had to find a bigger group and a bigger organization to be a part of, because obviously this group’s voice is bigger than one person’s voice alone,” Spielberg said. “This is only the first meeting of the first step.”
Despite the Yale coalition’s name, student opposition to the war is not unanimous. Last week, a Facebook.com group began in response to the coalition called “Yale Supports the War.” Founder Ben Meyer ’10 said that although he does not plan to hold meetings for the approximately 60 members, he wanted it to be known that there are some who “support the war and support the president.”
“I have no problem with what they’re doing — I just don’t feel it’s fair to say that all of Yale feels this way,” Meyer said. “Pulling troops out right now would be a catastrophic mistake … Right now, we’re fighting terrorists who hate America and who want to kill Americans. They want to attack our freedom and country.”
In the early 20th century, Yale had a much closer relationship to the military than currently exists. Yalies often volunteered to protect the Connecticut harbor, and some students even built airplanes, setting the foundation for the modern Air Force. The ROTC program has its roots at Yale — including about half the student body during the Korean War — but it dissolved as student sentiment turned against the Vietnam War.
But today, the Yale opposition group to the war on Facebook.com outnumbers the group supporting it by about five to one.