An Open Letter to the Oberlin Community from the Columbia Coalition Against the War
As a college freshman at Oberlin, I marched alongside millions of Americans on Feb. 15, 2003 in protest against the impending U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. I still remember the neon orange poster on which I had stenciled “Stop the War on Iraq” in black ink. Never did I imagine that, halfway through my dual-degree graduate program, almost four years after the largest coordinated antiwar demonstration in human history, I would still be stenciling the same slogan on neon orange posters.
In very significant ways, the war turned out even worse than many predicted. The war is criminal in its violation of the Geneva Conventions and has resulted in a catastrophic loss of life: 3,300 coalition troops and over 655,000 of our Iraqi brothers and sisters. The war has also served as a cheap pretense for a broad assault on our civil liberties, including the violation of habeas corpus and condonation of torture and rampant racism against Arabs and Muslims. Most disturbingly, the war has given into self-defeating pathologies of hatred and, according to a declaration from 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, has made the world less safe and less free.
As many of us ponder the Iraq war, we search for ways to speak for the Iraqis whose country is being laid waste, whose families are being mutilated, whose culture is being sabotaged. We also search for ways to speak for the poor of America who return from the war without limbs or life and whose wounds and coffins are shielded from the public’s eye by shrewd politicians who sign multibillion-dollar no-bid Halliburton contracts with the same hand they use to pat the backs of mourning parents. As we search for ways to speak for those who too often go unheard in the media while this senseless war rages on, we must remember the words of Martin Luther King Jr. in a Vietnam antiwar address he delivered at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967: “We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.”
Next week, many students at Columbia University who are sick of the suffering inflicted in our names plan to “speak” by participating in a nationwide strike. As an organizing member of the Columbia Coalition Against the War, I hope the Oberlin community, including students, faculty, staff and the administration will join us in publicly and actively opposing the unjust war in Iraq.
We the Coalition call upon the people of this country — especially our generation — to shoulder the responsibility of bringing an immediate end to this war. We strongly encourage students around the nation to plan student strikes in opposition to the war and also to show solidarity with Columbia’s strike by signing our petition available at: www.gopetition.com/online/11069.html.
Oberlin, like Columbia, is a global institution and has a responsibility to take a proactive stance against this illegal war. By investing in corporations crucial to the war effort, universities de facto align their financial future with America’s protracted occupation of Iraq. We at Columbia therefore call on our administration to divest from these corporations for the duration of the war to hasten the war’s end and to dissuade future acts of wanton aggression. We hope Oberlin will similarly hold its administration responsible for its financial investments at this critical time in our history.
We also hope that Oberlin will unite with us on the upcoming anniversary to “rekindle the flame of protest that flared up all over the world on that date four years ago,” as historian Howard Zinn noted in his support for a nationwide strike. Columbia’s protest and teach-in on Feb. 15 is only the beginning. We aim for this to be the rebirth of a strong and diverse antiwar movement on Columbia’s campus and on campuses around the world.
We hope Oberlin will join us in building support in our schools and our communities for resistance to the war; giving voice to the majority of Americans who have expressed their strong opposition to the war; and showing the leaders in Congress that we, the people, are the true deciders.
If you are still uncertain about helping organize at Oberlin to end the war, consider King’s eerily accurate words in his speech against the Vietnam War: “Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war.”
“Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on...move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history.”
–Deena Guzder, OC ’06