'Hell no, we won't go!': Once again, students rise in protest


January 16, 1991|By Jean Marbella

Like an echo that took more than 20 years to reverberate, the cry is heard once again on college campuses:

"Hell no, we won't go."

Some members of another generation of college students want to give peace a chance. As with the Vietnam War, the conflict in the Persian Gulf is beginning to meet resistance on college campuses across the country.

"I cannot sit back and allow myself to be drafted. I just think it's a matter of time before [the draft is] reinstated, and it scares me, FTC and it scares a lot of other students," said Eric Hansen, 23, a student at the University of Maryland's School of Social Work in Baltimore. "This is the point -- to do something before it's too late."

He and other students have formed a Baltimore coalition of college and high school activists that meets weekly to plan and coordinate anti-war events. Among recent activities have been teach-ins, street demonstrations and trips to rallies in Washington.

"I'm really upset that people I know, people my age, are the ones who would be getting killed," said Khara Nemitz, a 22-year-old student at the Maryland Institute of Art and member of the coalition. "It just seems so unnecessary. It's going to be awful if people's children die, if their husbands die, for this."

Never particularly political before, she turned activist after attending a teach-in on the Gulf in mid-November. Now, she thinks nothing of calling her congressional representatives to give them a piece of her mind or organizing and attending anti-war demonstrations.

Other young activists, however, moved naturally into the anti-war movement from other progressive causes, such as the environment or Central America.

Jim Funck, a 21-year-old Towson State University student, has monitored elections in Nicaragua and done independent political studies in Africa and Europe.

As with the Vietnam-era protesters, Mr. Funck and other students today are asking: What are we fighting for? "We can live without that oil," he said. "We don't want anyone to have to die for that."

Some students believe their activities have already had impact: They point to a letter from President Bush, faxed or mailed to more than 500 colleges last week, urging students to support his efforts in the Gulf.

"I think he's scared of college students as he sees us rising up," claimed Maryland Institute student Julie Weiner, 19. "He's telling us to chill out."

Currently, the student activists are focusing on two marches on Washington scheduled for Saturday and Jan. 26. Coinciding with the latter, the national Progressive Students Network plans to meet at the University of the District of Columbia to plan future activities.

The student movement is admittedly small at this point, especially compared to the activity at the peak of the Vietnam years, but perhaps that's understandable. Most schools are still on winter break, so campuses are largely empty during this critical time when tensions have escalated. And, like the rest of the country, students have been on hold until recently as the Gulf crisis has progressed at a maddeningly slow pace, with nothing like a Tet offensive or bombing of Cambodia to spark major, gut-level outrage.

"I think back in August, there were many more options. People felt it would be resolved without going to war," said Mr. Hansen. "Then came the large deployment in November. People started saying, 'This is getting serious.' "

And as last night's midnight deadline for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait drew near, the sense of urgency mounted, as did anti-war activities.

"There's a chance I might not even go back to college if war breaks out," said Matthew Walters, 19, a freshman at Oberlin College in Ohio who spent his winter break at home in Baltimore. "I feel I have more voice here, being close to Washington."

Mr. Walters, a City College graduate who has attended several recent peace rallies in Baltimore, said students at Oberlin have been quite active protesting the war.

"There's a lot of interest in it," said the pony-tailed student. "When I left school, no one believed a war would come of it, but we still had a march and a memorial. We had 300 people show up at the march in November."

Loyola College students Chris Ottenritter, 20, and Dan Madey, 21, biked over to Union Baptist Church in Northwest Baltimore yesterday for a march for peace, looking for a way to join a movement that they say has yet to take root on their own campus.

Both became more concerned about the issue when the U.S. role started to turn from a defensive stance to a seemingly more offensive one.

"My father's a reservist, so he has a chance of being called up. He doesn't want to go. He doesn't want me to go," said Mr. Ottenritter. "He was in combat in Vietnam. He knows it's no fun. He said it's hell."

Mr. Madey said he was swayed into action after learning more about Kuwait. "This isn't a kind government," he said, questioning why the U.S. should go to war over a monarchy.

Both are unsure what they would do if the draft was reinstated.

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