Antiwar students discuss the struggle

October 16, 2008

MORE THAN 170 students representing 36 schools around the country gathered at the 2008 Campus Antiwar Network (CAN) national conference to discuss the way forward for the movement.

Titled "It's Up to Us to Stop the War," the conference was held the weekend of October 10-12 at DePaul University in Chicago. CAN made a major shift in organizational priorities with the addition of a demand for immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan to its points of unity.

During the opening plenary discussion on why the U.S. is in the Middle East, speakers tackled the two pillars of U.S. imperialism today: oil and empire. They challenged the ideas that the race for oil is an issue of the past or motivated entirely by consumption.

In addition, they broke down some of the myths about the state of Israel and its oppression of Palestinians, the role of Israel and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East, and how they factor into the U.S. thirst for geopolitical domination.

Workshops addressed important questions for the movement, with Afghanistan taking center stage in light of the decision by U.S. rulers to pummel that country with a surge in military forces.

Presentations also were given on Palestine, the role of multinational corporations in the pillaging of Colombia, torture, the Iraqi refugee crisis, and divide-and-conquer strategies in Iraq. Some students said that they had learned more at a workshop than in a semester-long college course.

With that excitement, students broke out into strategy workshops to discuss their ideas and experiences in shaping their organizing when they return to their campuses. There was something for everyone: working with veterans; publicity and media; the economic war on students; a report back from the Republican National Convention student protest contingent; and the basics on how to develop a CAN chapter.

The "How to Start a CAN Chapter" workshop took on questions of confronting and working around university policy in order to promote a chapter. A student from Drake University spoke of not being able to approach people while tabling at her student union, and having to sit behind the table waiting for people to come to her. Some constructive suggestions were given, including one student who recommended that the table be on wheels, so that she could approach people and still be behind it.

On the evening of October 11, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) gave testimony about their experiences. Images provided during their testimony confirmed the use of white phosphorus on Iraqis. The presentation showed that chaos and a lack of infrastructure are rampant in Iraq. The dehumanization of not only Iraqis, but gays in the military was discussed, as well as subordination of women and ethnic minorities.

In reference to the United State's supposed goal of ridding Afghanistan of women's oppression, to paraphrase one of the veterans, "if you think that the military is on some feminist mission to free the women of Afghanistan, you are mistaken."

Organizing from the bottom up is a challenge, yet CAN has been able to double in size within the last year to over 50 chapters. Remaining independent from any political party has definitely added to its success, given that the Democratic and Republican parties are allied over the "war on terror." Additionally, the democratic process--the ability for each student to have a say and take part in action, has allowed for student members to flourish and leaders to develop.

At the voting session held on October 12, students debated and voted on the direction CAN should take for the next year.

Structurally, CAN will take on more responsibility in getting members educated on Afghanistan and Palestine. Politically, the movement took a large step and has added to its points of unity a call for immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan. In solidarity with their allies in IVAW, CAN now also stands for full economic reparations to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as full health and educational benefits for all military personnel regardless of their discharge status.

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