From Protest to Resistance: CAN’s East Coast Conference Report

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Campus Antiwar Network

Report from CAN’s
Held in New York City, April 29-30

by Steve Jackson (UMD), Heather Squire (Brooklyn College), and
Elizabeth Wrigley-Field (NYU), with help from Wes Hannah (Cornell)

See photos and video coming soon at

The theme of the conference was FROM PROTEST TO RESISTANCE: REAL
STRATEGIES TO END THE WAR IN IRAQ, and indeed one of the main
schievements of the conference was to begin to answer what kind of
resistance and strategy will be needed to end the war – and how the
organizing CAN chapters are doing today is a contribution to that.
Students who came to the conference left with a greater sense of
relevance, inspiration and clarity to continue organizing over the
summer and come back to our campuses with a bang this fall.

== Demonstrating against the war ==

The conference kicked off with a massive CAN contingent for College
Not Combat, Troops Out Now in the April 29 protest march. Hundreds of
students from all over the Northeast joined in an unbelievably lively,
energetic, chanting and dancing contingent. Because of the massive
size of the overall march (UFPJ estimates 300,000), we were stuck for
an hour and a half in one spot waiting to begin the march, yet the
energy never waned.

The most popular chant of the day seemed to be our new chant, “1-We
are the students, 2-We hate recruitment, 3-We will not join the mil-i-
tar-y!” (To wrap up our conference on Sunday we did it with the
variation “2-This is our movement.”) Other popular chants included
some continuing favorites about troops out now, and “Make levees not
war! What the hell are we fighting for?”, contributed by a wonderful
group of high school students who joined us.

Throughout the march, we were enthusiastically recognized by
passersby, who seemed genuinely thrilled to see such a large, lively
student contingent. This was echoed by the excitement of CAN members,
many of whom remarked that “It’s like our September 24 contingent all
over again.” [See report from that contingent on CAN’s website: ]

== Our Generation Says No! CAN and IVAW plenary ==

On Saturday evening, the conference presented a panel to an audience
of 85 activists (about 75 of whom were students) at the Borough of
Manhattan Community College, featuring 5 students with unique
experiences resisting the war in Iraq. The students included: Anuradha
Bhagwati, of Harvard University, Benjamin Eagle-Staton, of the Borough
of Manhattan Community College, Tariq Khan, of George Mason
University, Jose Vasquez, of CUNY graduate center, and Elizabeth
Wrigley-Field, of NYU, all of whose contributions to the conference
were educational and inspiring. Each panel participant brought a
different perspective on the war in Iraq, as well as intriguing
insight into U.S. foreign and domestic policy.

Noteworthy was the presence of the Iraq Veterans Against War
contingent, who co-sponsored the plenary and brought considerable
energy and enthusiasm to the discussion. Jose Vasquez and Anuradha
Bhagwati, their representatives on the panel, brought many issues to
light critical to understanding the present social uproar seen in
cities nationwide and the growing anti-war sentiment within the

For instance, Anuradha Bhagwati spoke about the pressures within the
military that restrict dissenting voices, they include peer pressure
and the internal guilt of “abandoning” your fellow troops. Jose
Vasquez described seeing pictures of the torture at Abu Ghraib, and
his realization that he identified more with the tortured prisoners
than the soldiers. Thus, he vowed he would never be deployed there,
which has led to his seeking CO (Conscientious Objector) status while
his unit deploys there, and his work to form a grassroots chapter of
IVAW in NYC. Their sentiment was crucial and inspiring to hear because
so often we as students and activists lose morale due to varying
forces. However, their presence buoyed our spirits and re-emphasized
that our actions are not in vain. Together as students and soldiers we
can do more than any of us can do alone.

Another moving speaker was Tariq Kahn, an experienced anti-war
activist, who described his past activist efforts and subsequent
abuse. In September, after peacefully protesting military recruiters
on his campus he was attacked and arrested. However, with the support
of his fellow students and activists nationwide, the charges were
dropped. His example is further evidence that we are not alone. We are
a part of a social movement that spreads nationwide and together we
can stop this unjust war.

Benjamin Eagle-Staton spoke about racism and colonialism, linking the
dehumanization of Muslims and the violence against Iraqis to racism
and police brutality against African-Americans and others in the
United States. Elizabeth Wrigley-Field argued that what students do on
our campuses and in communities can affect whether soldiers buy into
the government’s racist explanations for their suffering, or turn
against the war itself; and that our activism can raise the confidence
of soldiers, as well as Arabs and Muslims, to actively oppose the war
despite the pressures on all of them to stay silent.

Evident from the cohesion of the groups (students, activists, Muslims,
soldiers) was an underlying emphasis on the potential contributions we
all can make to the withdrawal from the Iraq war. Just as those who
participated in the 1960’s civil rights movement, we too are making
our voices heard regardless of how it may seem. Together we can make a
difference and we are making a difference. Evidence of the theme of
solidarity could be seen in the cohesiveness of the panel despite
their different ideologies. People of varying backgrounds came
together to discuss, encourage, inspire, and stand united against the

== Organizing the student antiwar movement ==

If Saturday’s amazing contingent and plenary helped show that building
a grassroots movement — in our schools and in the military — is
possible, Sunday’s workshops reminded us why it is necessary. The
three workshops — Is there a civil war in Iraq?, Will there be war
with Iran?, and Reflecting on our movement for free speech — made it
clear that if we do not organize ourselves to stop it, we can expect
our government to bring ever greater brutality and violence to Iraq,
to spread this violence across the Middle East and around the world,
and to suppress any attempt to stop them, even if it means blatant
violations of our rights.

The civil war workshop raised many important questions about how
widespread the ethnic sectarianism in Iraq is, why sectarian violence
has increased over the course of the occupation, how the US occupation
relates to earlier periods in Iraqi history, the attitude the US
antiwar movement should take toward Iraqi politics, and what role our
movement can play in creating a better life for Iraqis.

The workshop on Iran discussed why the U.S. has its sights on Iran,
the likelihood of different forms of military attack, and what our
movement can do to prevent this tragedy from taking place. This
produced much discussion among the whole conference later in the day
about the place of Iran in CAN’s organizing.

Finally, the free speech workshop brought together CAN’s history of
defending students from repression with a necessary discussion about
how to continue this work in the future. Kicked off by students who
themselves faced repression this year, the discussion centered on
learning from what worked in defending them — and beginning to plan
how we can go on the offensive and defend our rights pro-actively, as
well as continuing to react as new instances of repression come up.
This also furthered our commitment to restarting the national free
speech working group, in addition to starting a new working group to
research our universities’ connections to the war.

After the workshops and conference-wide discussions on the U.S. plan
for the Middle East and the organizing we’re doing on campuses, we
took up proposals to vote on. We passed three proposals with
overwhelming support. The first was to call for emergency student walk-
outs in the case of an attack on Iran. This item had already been
passed by both the West and Mid-West conferences so now it has
national CAN endorsement. We discussed the possibility of a slow
escalation or summer attack in Iran, in which case a walk-out might
not be as effective or viable. In light of this, the need for
alternate forms of action regarding Iran will need to be discussed in
the near future. The second item we passed, also endorsed by the
Western and Mid-Western conferences, was to support the May 1
immigration protests and boycott. The need to make the connections
between xenophobia and war, and immigrant oppression and military
recruitment, was also emphasized within this item. The third proposal
we passed was an endorsement of Camp Casey in August, which would
include our commitment to sending CAN members there this summer. A CAN
member from Texas, who raised this proposal, is helping to organize
student participation in Camp Casey.

Students from about 20 schools as far away as Texas participated in
the organizational and discussion components of the conference, with
many more marching with CAN but unable to stay due to prior travel
arrangements. Many dozens of students from around the Northeast signed
up to get involved with CAN — some already organized into peace and
justice groups at their schools, others hoping for help in getting
something started. Coming out of a year where CAN has experienced real
growth, with new chapters and many new activists leading our
organization, this conference showed us that our active core can
continue to grow — and that the organizing we’re doing on every
school today, whether big or small, is contributing to the growth of
the grassroots movement that will ultimately be what stops the war.

Steve, Heather, Elizabeth and Wes are members of CAN’s national
coordinating committeee. Steve and Heather are the two newest members,
voted on at the East Coast CAN conference.

Campus Antiwar Network