On March 15, nearly two years after the current Iraq war began, UC Irvine students took position in front of the Administration Building a second time to protest the continued occupation of Iraq. The protest and walkout was organized partly as a show of solidarity against the President’s continued war plans, but also as a response to the invitation of controversial speakers as part of the Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellows Lecture series.
These speakers include Viet Dinh, an author of the Patriot Act, and John Yoo, author of a controversial memo that spurred the ‘enemy combatant’ classification, a move argued by many to be in violation of the Geneva Convention and other international laws.
Over 200 students picketed in front of the Administration Building and stopped to hear speakers from a myriad of cultural, political and social groups across UCI including Amnesty International, MEChA, the Society of Arab Students, the International Action Center, Students for Peace and Justice, and Afghan Future Generations.
Yet with the groundbreaking ceremony for the Student Center commencing simultaneously, protest organizers were competing for attention against free food and plastic cup giveaways. As one speaker noted, ‘I’m glad to see there’s so many people here, though it’s sad there’s so many more people for a Student Center dedication that won’t be built for several years.’
A petition was created by protest organizer Stephen Douglas in the form of an open letter to the administration, which condemns the war in Iraq as well as the Chancellor’s choice of Distinguished Fellows.
The petition reads, ‘We demand a public apology from Chancellor Cicerone for his disgraceful and contemptible decision, which has cast disrepute on UCI by associating the campus with such apologists of U.S. imperialism.’
The major organizations involved in the protest presented speakers who condemned the war and the Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellows.
Katie Falbo, president of Amnesty International at UCI, highlighted concerns over the circumvention of international law by deporting captives to countries unrestricted by the Geneva Convention.
‘We’re currently outsourcing torture,’ Falbo said. ‘Amnesty International claims that the government’s integrity is damaged when it condemns other countries for their use of torture while simultaneously delivering detainees to their prison cells.’
As pointed out by Refugio Valle, the representative from MEChA, the purpose of the rally was to encourage the development of a peaceful populist movement.
‘We need to stand up,’ Valle said. ‘We have to educate, we need to be leaders in our community and let people know what is going on. Do not let anyone hold you back when you speak your mind.’
Protest organizers also warned about the coming lecture of Daniel Pipes, a main force behind Campus Watch. Campus Watch encourages the reporting and collecting of information regarding academic studies concerning the Middle East and publicly discredits professors who are overly critical of Western politics in the Middle East.
Though not on the Distinguished Fellows circuit, Pipes comes to UCI funded by a private interest group known as the Caravan for Democracy.
Even among UCI’s faculty, there is concern that Campus Watch will hinder academic freedom.
The rally ended with a march across Ring Road with shouts of ‘Exxon Mobile, BP Shell, take your oil wars and go to hell.’
As the war rages on and opportunities of exit strategy via other Islamic nations come to light, it is possible that UCI’s protest culture is only beginning to come of age.