Several dozen student and community activists converged on the UC Berkeley campus and the surrounding area Monday to call for an end to U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and to advocate for the protection of human rights at home and abroad.
Protesters made use of fliers, paper airplanes and “guerrilla theater” to demand that the United States stop the bombing overseas and halt efforts to interrogate young men of Middle-Eastern descent living in this country.
Activists, who engaged in a variety of actions scattered across the campus, were met with a mixed response. Some students supported their efforts, others opposed them, and most said they were too busy preparing for finals this week to pay much attention.
“We’re so bogged down with studying,” said sophomore Michelle Marrow. “We don’t have the time to look at politics.”
The protests went smoothly, for the most part, but activists negotiated with campus police for an hour in the morning to set up a mock refugee camp in front of Moffitt Undergraduate Library. The camp highlighted the conditions faced by Afghan civilians who have fled their homes since the war broke out.
UC Berkeley Police Capt. Bill Cooper said the police did not want protesters to block access to the library, particularly in the midst of finals week. He said officers worked with protesters to set up their camp at a reasonable distance from the building’s entrance.
“It was largely to strike a balance between free speech and trying to maintain an educational environment,” Cooper said, describing the aims of the university police.
But protesters said they never intended to disrupt the flow of traffic and accused police of threatening arrest and targeting activists for their views.
“The sheer intimidation and use of police powers has a chilling effect on student speech,” said Snehal Shingavi, a graduate student at UC Berkeley, and member of the Berkeley Stop the War Coalition, which organized the day of protest.
Cooper said the antiwar sentiment of the protest had nothing to do with police involvement.
Dr. Ameena Ahmed of the California Department of Public Health, who took part in the refugee camp protest, said the U.S. bombing campaign is exacerbating a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
Ahmed said displaced Afghans, who already totaled close to 5 million before the war, according to the UN High Commission on Refugees, are dying from starvation and curable diseases.
Ahmed cited UNICEF statistics demonstrating that one in four Afghan children die before age 5 from preventable diseases.
Protesters were also active in front of the Hearst Memorial Gymnasium, where they charged the American military with terrorism, and called on the university to shut down its ROTC program.
Another group of activists dropped yellow fliers, folded into paper airplanes, from the top of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Student Union onto Sproul Plaza. The fliers cited news articles focusing on the similar, yellow coloration of U.S. bombs and food packets. The quoted segments discussed the death of young children who could not delineate between food packets and unexploded bombs.
Another group of students performed a skit at six local cafes, including the Free Speech Movement Cafe and Bear’s Lair on the university campus. The sketch protested the U.S. Justice Department’s request that some 5,000 Middle Eastern men with expired visas grant interviews with government authorities, and provide any information they might have on the Sep. 11 terrorist attacks.
“I see this as basically racial profiling,” said Annie Klein, a junior at UC Berkeley who took part in the skit. “People are being singled out for their racial background and ethnicity.”
Some students appreciated the protesters’ efforts. “I don’t care how much of it’s distorted, it’s just important that someone cares,” said Philipp Blume, a graduate student. “Any alternative to what we hear on television is welcome.”
Others were less supportive. Andy Barkett, a senior at UC Berkeley, said he had not seen any of Monday’s protest activity, but was annoyed by previous anti-war activism on campus.
“They were missing the point,” Barkett said. “Everyone thinks war is bad. I think war is bad. But I thought they were being much too critical of a very measured, reasonable approach that the government is taking.”
Monday’s protests came on the 53rd anniversary of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and were part of a series of anti-war actions taken by activists at dozens of west coast colleges yesterday, according to Berkeley protesters.