AMERICA AT WAR
Anti-war students attempting to reignite flames of protest
By Sean D. Hamill
Tribune staff reporter
April 5, 2003
Since school began last fall at the University of Chicago, Dan Lichtenstein-Boris has carved out time to oppose the war in Iraq, drafting leaflets, creating film and speakers series and setting up a round-the-clock vigil in the center of campus.
But getting fellow students to join in a big rally and make a larger point since the war began has been difficult.
"I think things are pretty quiet," Lichtenstein-Boris, 21, a sophomore, said in frustration. "With all we've done, how is a lecture or film series going to help? It's kind of a soft way of going about things when people are dying."
In an era when there is no draft to give young people a direct connection to the war in Iraq, when there are many social causes to invest effort in and when many students are apolitical, activists across the country are struggling to motivate America's campuses.
One of the biggest efforts takes place Saturday, when a national student network hopes anti-war rallies in Chicago, Oakland and Washington, D.C., will draw thousands and demonstrate young people are willing to speak out against the war.
The rallies are being organized by the National Campus Anti-war Network,a fledgling, grass-roots group formed after an October march in Washington, D.C., that was not led by students.
"It's just that students are often looked at as being less experienced, less knowledgeable about the movement," said Kirstin Roberts, a lead organizer with the network. "We felt [a national student network] was a need that needed to be filled."
The network organized anti-war walkouts at 400 high school and college campuses across the country on March 5, which student leaders point to as an example of success of the movement still in its early stages.
"I think that people are measuring the movement today by a strange yardstick -- the height of the Vietnam movement in 1968 and 1969, which was four years after the war started," said Roberts, 34, a sophomore at Harold Washington College in Chicago.
But polls show that getting more students involved in protests would mean first getting them to change their minds.
In percentages similar to the country in general, two polls taken in the last year prior to the war show about two-thirds of high school seniors and college students supported going to war in Iraq.
While polls show most high school and college students don't go to rallies or marches, they volunteer more than preceding generations, with 61 percent of college students volunteering, according to a study last October by the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
"The students are--I don't want to say apathetic--they're not vocal," said Gordon Li, director of outreach at the institute. "It's nothing like 35 years ago."
But students at Harvard in years past have had large demonstrations against South Africa's apartheid laws and have pushed for a living wage for custodians, though there has been relatively little activity since the war began, Li said.
Part of that is because many causes draw students' interest while opposition to the Vietnam War was the galvanizing issue of that era.
For example, Saturday's rallies are being organized by the Campus Anti-war Network, one of the two largest national anti-war student movements. The other, the National Youth & Student Peace Coalition, is not helping with the rallies because it was busy with pro-labor activities last week, said Amanda Crater, University of California at Berkeley junior and a coalition organizer.
Still, the largest factor keeping students from getting more involved in the anti-war movement is absence of the draft, experts said.
"The draft, that's a huge mobilizer," said Dennis Gilbert, a sociology professor at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., whose survey of 1,001 high school seniors last fall found support for the war about equal that among adults. But, he said, 40 percent would try to avoid service if drafted. "These kids aren't enthusiastic about the anti-war movement because they don't feel connected to it."
"Of course people are apathetic to a certain extent. What do they call it? The slacker generation?" said Lichtenstein-Boris. "But I don't think that will always be the case. As the war continues, people will come out."
Copyright © 2003, Chicago Tribune
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