COLLEGE PARK - In a rally that outdrew many others held at campuses around the country yesterday, nearly 1,000 students at the University of Maryland protested a possible invasion of Iraq.
Skipping their midday classes, hundreds of students gathered at McKeldin Mall, the school's main quad, to cheer on speakers who decried an invasion of Iraq as wasteful and immoral. The rally was part of "Books not Bombs," a nationwide series of protests at colleges and universities coordinated by the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition.
The large turnout at Maryland surprised even some organizers, who noted the university is not known as a hotbed of activism. That so many students turned out, organizers said, showed the depth of campus concerns about a war in Iraq.
"Usually, it's hard to galvanize this community for anything other than sports and beer," said Jenny Rosloff, a junior political science major from Montgomery County. "But it's starting to pick up. People are seeing that they're not joining some radical fringe movement."
In addition to costing American and Iraqi lives, protesters said, a war would drain money from priorities like education and speed campus cutbacks and tuition increases. "Drop Tuition, Not Bombs," read one sign.
"Promises aren't going to be fulfilled because of the money going to war," said Michael Scott, a senior mechanical engineering major from Baltimore.
Still, he said, the best argument against a war was not "a few hundred dollars in tuition, but the hundreds of thousands of people" who could die. "It's an unjust war, and the reasons they're giving us for it are false," Scott said.
Added Vinnie Bevivino, a senior environmental science major from Annapolis: "We will not believe the lies of the [Bush] administration and evening news telling us we will be safer from terrorism by invading Iraq."
In addition to a core of activists from campus groups, the protest drew hundreds of unaligned students, many of whom at first watched from the edge but soon joined in the chants. The day's balmy weather gave the event a celebratory feel, as students laughed at a caustic impersonation of President Bush by comedian Jim Neib and clapped to the anti-war lyrics of Ryan Harvey, a local folk singer.
Students cheered especially loudly in support of several faculty members who spoke against the war. American studies Professor John Caughey noted that the campus had recently been host to Kofi Annan, secretary-general of the United Nations, a body whose aims Caughey said Bush was flouting.
"Excuse my language, but what the [expletive] is happening with our president?" Caughey shouted. "He's starting a war against everything the United Nations stands for."
Caughey and physics Professor Satindar M. Bhagat said the rally reminded them of anti-Vietnam War demonstrations in the 1960s. Students protesting today was impressive, they said, considering that there was no fear of the draft to drive their protests.
"During Vietnam, it was students who saved this country from itself," Baghat told protesters. "You have the power. Please don't let go of your power."
After the speeches - which were broadcast with a sound system supplied by university officials - students marched around the campus, chanting loudly, as Rosloff led the way with an American flag.
In a counter-rally nearby organized by the College Republicans, a dozen students held signs supporting Bush. Lauren Jacob, a junior psychology major from Bowie, said she backs invading Iraq for "our national security. The country needs to do what's in its best interests."
The group's organizer, senior Katie Mucklow, said she was not dismayed by the size of the anti-war protest.
"We know we're the silent majority on campus," said Mucklow, a government major from Illinois. "The people who support us are inside their classrooms, getting an education."