Racial Justice -- Behind Today's Campus Anti-War Activism

Dominique, a 22-year-old student at the University of California at Berkeley, stands in a blue work jumpsuit with a purple bandanna on her head, what she calls her "Rosie the Riveter outfit." She's holding an American flag with rainbow-colored stripes at an anti-war rally, trying to get passers-by to sign a petition to "protect our civil liberties."

"I was never politically active before this. A couple weeks ago, though, I was walking out of class and I heard somebody tell this guy, 'Stop looking at me, you barbaric Arab.' I was shocked. Then I came out here and heard these people cheering 'Stop the violence, stop the hate.' From there I started marching and going to their meetings."

There's a new anti-war movement brewing on the Berkeley campus, but it's not your parents' protest. Young people do not chant "Hell no, we won't go." They're crying out for racial justice, civil liberties, and other issues important to today's youths.




"America" -- The Community Media Project




It's a movement that has brought the diverse campus together to some extent. But different groups with different agendas have gotten involved, causing confusion and turning some away from the movement.

After two weeks of involvement in the organizing effort, Dominique has noticed a somewhat muddled message.

"There is a laundry list of issues. We have people with all different reasons why they don't want war or why they want their civil liberties protected, so it's kind of hard," she said.

Dominique got involved because she wanted to stop racial profiling at her school.

"It's a coming together between the two opposing groups of the rally under the second two points of unity: End Racism and Defend Civil Liberties. So what we do is agree to disagree on the first one (Stop the War) and come together on the second and third to try and get our message out."


"The main issue is racism in general. The thing is, when you go against people who look Middle Eastern, that can be anybody. Somebody said to me 'Bring all your friends, we're going to bomb your ass.' I said, 'I'm from Puerto Rico --you've been bombing Vieques for the last 25 years.'

"We can't support terrorism, but how are we going to fight terrorism with terrorism?"

Berkeley's student anti-war movement has garnered a student response. Eric is an 18-year-old freshman at Cal and a member of United Students of America (USA). The group formed to show support for America in the face of the attacks, and as a response to the campus protestors.

"We are kind of disgusted, in a way, by these protests, so we decided to rise up and show the world that there are people in Berkeley who do support America," Eric said.

Eric stands with a large American flag over his shoulder, the only flag at the rally that is not in some way defaced, altered or displayed upside-down. A group of students surrounds him, and he calmly addresses all of their questions and accusations.

USA and its members have, expectedly, encountered a lot of opposition on campus. Eric tells the story of an anti-war organizer who followed a USA co-founder to his dorm, yelling at him and shaking his fist.

"He was saying how peace was the way and 'You're completely wrong,' and I honestly didn't catch much of it because of all the yelling and screaming," Eric said.

Eric and his fellow organizers at USA don't want to silence the protestors, though. He supports their right to air their views, but wonders why so many different issues come up in the context of an anti-war dialogue.

"I differ on their viewpoints but I believe in free speech. I think that some of the rhetoric they're using isn't good, though. They're tying in a lot of different cards -- the race factor, the sex factor, and I don't think that necessarily applies to the situation.

"The main issue is racism in general. The thing is, when you go against people who look Middle Eastern, that can be anybody. Somebody said to me 'Bring all your friends, we're going to bomb your ass.' I said, 'I'm from Puerto Rico --you've been bombing Vieques for the last 25 years.'"


"This is a war on terrorism. This isn't a war on a specific ethnicity or religion or group or people."

Of course there is some disagreement even within the group of American loyalists. "We have some very war-hawkish people in our organization who support ground troops," Eric says. "They support going in there with a lot of military force, but there are some people in our group that don't feel that way... What brings us all together, though, is that we're pro-American."

When the rally ended, people broke off into groups curiously divided along color lines -- most notably, black and white.

Troy, a 19-year-old black student and Oakland native, was taking a test during the rally. "I care about the anti-war movement to an extent, but I don't see how that's gonna stop crazy George Bush from going to war. He wouldn't even help us out with the energy crisis, so why would he give a damn about a few sons and daughters of hippies and Black Panthers protesting?"

Troy thinks the days of successful social protest are over.

"The thing about the 1960s is that was the first time in a long time people really started taking a stand. But now people look at Berkeley like, 'OK, they're gonna be protesting about something, so who cares?'"

Matt Smauss is a student and principal organizer for the Stop the War Coalition. He was excited that the quickly organized rally had been successful, though he had hoped for more than "100 or 200 people."

He spoke about a group of people on campus who were not happy with the direction the movements was taking.

"The student Jewish organizations have interpreted some of our message as anti-Semitic, but it's not meant that way. It's criticism of Israel's policy, not of Israel."

Smauss said his organization was in the process of building a bridge with another group: the United Students of America.

"It's a coming together between the two opposing groups of the rally under the second two points of unity: End Racism and Defend Civil Liberties. So what we do is agree to disagree on the first one (Stop the War) and come together on the second and third to try and get our message out."

Whether that message can become focused and powerful remains to be seen.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

Close
alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.