East Coast CAN conference

May 1, 2008

Adriano Contreras of RIT Antiwar in Rochester, N.Y., reports on the East Coast conference of the Campus Antiwar Network.

NEW YORK--Over 20 chapters of the Campus Antiwar Network (CAN) gathered at Hunter College in New York City for an East Coast conference on April 4-6.

Organized by students, for students, "Their War, Our World: Building the Student Resistance" consisted of various educational and organizational workshops. Forums covered topics including U.S. goals in the Middle East, building the student movement, and a history of student protest during the Vietnam War.

The opening plenary was "Student Protest During the Vietnam War" with Michael Letwin of New York City Labor Against the War, and focused on the role of resistance by students and civilians. Letwin expressed the need for the student/civilian movement in supporting the GI and Iraqi resistance because like in Vietnam these movements forced an end to the war.

There were a number of educational workshops on Afghanistan, Palestine and racism in a time of war. "The Case for Immediate Withdrawal," given by the UMass-Amherst CAN chapter, covered a number of questions that people bring up, such as "What do we mean by Troops Out Now?", "Will there be civil war?", and "Who should rebuild Iraq?" Speakers debunked the lies the U.S. government used to justify for war--the use of a racist portrayal of Arabs and Muslims, the presence of Al-Qaeda and bringing democracy and regional stability.

Art and Protest, Divestment, Civil Disobedience, Working with Vets, Counter-Recruitment and Chapter Building were the organizational workshops offered at the conference. In the Divestment workshop, each school shared their experience trying to get their university to stop investments in the military-industrial-complex. It was a popular workshop with about a third of the conference attendees in that classroom. The panelists were able to provide steps to starting a divestment campaign and a number of sources and helpful organizations that can aid the campaigning process.

Michael Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook who has written extensively on popular protest and insurgency in Iraq, addressed the intentions of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and the roles of many previous administrations in seeking out oil in the Middle East.

Schwartz also talked about the crisis within Iraq and the fight of the resistance in Basra. By the time Schwartz was done, our understanding of the aims of the global war on terror was sharper than ever.

On the last day of the conference, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War spoke about the health care crisis, racism, sexism and war crimes committed while in Iraq. Reminiscent of the Winter Soldier hearings in March, personal testimony gave vivid imagery to the tragedies rarely mentioned by the corporate media. Veterans stressed the importance of the student movement, seeing it as the powerful element of the civilian antiwar movement.

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