For three days and nights, a group of students at the University of Pennsylvania protested the conflict in Afghanistan by sleeping in a “tent city” in the middle of the College Green, the equivalent of Yale’s Cross Campus lawn.
Wednesday night saw the end of the 72-hour effort by the students, who are members of Penn for Peace, a student organization formed in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The goal of the protest was to collect donations and discuss the humanitarian ramifications of bombing Afghanistan.
“We wanted to be a public and visible presence, 24 hours a day, that was available to answer and discuss any issues or collect donations [for our cause],” said Penn junior Lincoln Ellis, a spokesman for Penn for Peace.
Penn for Peace’s 40 members took shifts throughout the day, with about 15 or 20 students occupying the tent city at any given time.
Some faculty and staff also participated in the peace protests, but from a distance.
“We had some faculty and staff support, but we also sensed a bit of reluctance and timidness to openly voice any criticism against the U.S. government,” Ellis said.
The tent city constituted only one aspect of Penn for Peace’s anti-war campaign. The group also collected donations in the form of food, blankets and money for Afghans and those Americans who have become unemployed as a result of the events of Sept. 11.
Penn for Peace is now directing their efforts towards a legislative campaign, which will involve holding a town hall meeting with two Pennsylvania state senators and Penn’s congressional representatives. Penn for Peace hopes to have an open discussion with the legislators about U.S. policy regarding Afghanistan, which may enable the legislators to better represent the students’ views.
“The politicians claim this is a just war,” Penn senior Reshma Meta said in a written statement. “I want them to explain to me the theory of justice that allows for bombing to cut off humanitarian aid efforts while winter is coming and food is badly needed.”
Tentative plans for Penn for Peace to meet with other nearby Philadelphia colleges to encourage participation in the humanitarian effort are under way.
At Yale, however, Max Kennerly ’03 said he disapproved of Penn for Peace’s campaign despite his own anti-war sentiments.
“I don’t support their stance because they don’t seem to propose any viable alternatives to intervention — what do they expect from this?” Kennerly said.
He said America should strive to help the populace of Afghanistan.
“They don’t understand that if we don’t go into Afghanistan, there will remain the exact same humanitarian situation that existed before Sept. 11, with people dying of hunger,” Kennerly said.
Penn for Peace was initially formed after the Sept. 11 bombings as a discussion-based group concerned with the aftermath of the violence, but has since then evolved into an action-based group, Ellis said.
“It was just an ad-hoc group,” he said.
Ellis feels that the tent city protest and the upcoming legislative campaign have strengthened the bonds both within and beyond Penn for Peace.
“It brought the group together because we spent so much time with each other,” Ellis said. “It was important that this was not just a student-run event, but that this integrated people from all parts of society.”