A separate peace
The trip developed when Students for a Peaceful Response, a Five-College organization, contacted Outreach coordinator Jen Cannon and asked her if there was any interest in attending among Amherst students. Cannon passed the information on to Moran-Nieves, who undertook the responsibility of coordinating the trip. After advertising on campus, the group of five students came together, ready to travel to Washington in order to take part in the 10,000-person protest.
The group, which was funded independent of the Outreach offices, left Amherst on Friday afternoon, driving 12 hours to arrive at the nation’s capital early Saturday morning. That afternoon there had been a teach-in called the “People’s Summit,” which the group arrived too late to participate in. The following morning, there was a march led by the Anti-Capitalist Conversion (ACC); this anti-war march developed as a sort of revamped version of the weekend’s planned protests to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, which had been canceled in light of the Sept. 11 attacks. Although some students from Hampshire attended this rally, the Amherst group decided to forego it on principle. “We were there to advocate peace, not to incite more violence,” said Moran-Nieves.
Later Saturday afternoon, the International Action Center (IAC) organized an anti-war, anti-racism march, which headlined the group’s activities for the weekend. Protesters rallied near the Capitol, displaying a variety of pro-peace and pro-civil rights placards, walking through Washington’s streets and chanting slogans against the shouts of Bush supporters. Police in full riot gear were on hand for most of the rally, but nobody from the Amherst group was involved with any aggressive responses against protesters.
For the group of students who participated in the trip, the major point of the protests was anti-racism more than anti-war. “I know how the rest of the world looks on America and our power, and a war is not going to be welcomed by the global community,” said Moran-Nieves. “Nor do I think that we will be successful against a country that has never lost a battle or a war.”
Moran-Nieves stressed that she understands that declaring a war on “something as intangible as terrorism” would be as unproductive as a war on drugs. But she did not go to Washington to protest a war in principle; instead, she hoped that she would be able to raise the issue of combating certain strains of bigotry, which have arisen with America’s recent outburst of national pride.
“I don’t think that these atrocities should go unpunished, and if the United States can provide concrete evidence demonstrating who is responsible, then there should be consequences paid for the thousands of innocent lives that were lost,” said Moran-Nieves. “However, there should not be an attack on a whole people who had nothing to do with the terrorism that has happened, who don’t deserve to be the target of more war.”
The other students on the trip expressed similar sentiments about the general goals of the protests. Mahoney participated in order to protest racism in the United States in general. “I thought that it was important to have a strong showing of support for members of the Arab and Muslim communities in the United States and also abroad,” she said. “It was also important to take a stand against racial and ethnic profiling, not just against the aforementioned groups, but against all people of color in the United States, who are quite often the target of racially-motivated searches and arrests.”
Subramanian’s experience on the trip was influenced by another set of factors and interactions. “I’m Indian, and I look Indian. We were sitting in Freedom Plaza and there were some anti-protesters across the street,” she said.
The protesters yelled racist slurs at her, telling her to get out of the country. “There wasn’t really much I could do. I could have told them that I wasn’t Arab, but that really wasn’t the point,” she added.
Up and coming
Although the group from Amherst had very specific ambitions for the trip, they found that some of the other groups involved in the protest lacked a coherent vision.
“I felt that the people protesting all had different agendas and different ideas as to what they were marching for,” said Moran-Nieves. “I didn’t like the rhetoric that was used in some of the speeches, nor did I like the fact that people were ready to fight the cops, while I was there for peace.”
Much of the problem arose from the conflicting shouts and chants coming from the groups of anti-protesters. According to Subramanian, this caused some confusion about the protesters’ arguments. “The problem was that there were some anti-protesters yelling racist slurs,” she said. “Their stance was pro-government, which made our stance anti-government, which made people get extremely militant and agitated.”
As Amirapu said, “The two sides didn’t actually know what they were talking about.”
Outreach and ASAP are planning a teach-in tonight in the Cole Assembly Room to follow up the weekend’s protests.