It’s a Wonderful Day for a Walkout

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Oriflammes are gleaming! The rabble is roused! T-shirts are free for the taking! Five Years of War, Five Days of Action has reached its apex out on Low Plaza. A devoted cadre of protesters walked out of class at noon. Though the crowd has dwindled, there’s no reason to think any of the 236 people who confirmed their attendance via Facebook flaked out. Since then, they’ve encircled the sundial, which has been recomissioned as a podium. The professors invited (Hamid Dabashi, Rashid Khalidi, Zainab Bahrani, and Bruce Robbins) wrapped up their speeches earlier. Three veterans (one a Columbia grad student) have told their war stories. But as the speeches end, hijinks await. The group has promised protestacular mischief at 2 o’clock. An anonymous tipster informs Bwog that Butler, Alma Mater, a banner, and some unfurling may be involved. Stay tuned for live(ish) updates.

Update, 1:52 pm: Much of the crowd is now sitting. One speaker, a postdoc student, asked the crowd whether it wanted to engage in any chants–response was unenthusiastic. Bwog is stroking sweat away from its brow, and regretting having bought a black, heat-absorbing laptop. Talk has turned to divesting Columbia from business with Iraq war contractors (some $5M invested!), and to demanding that Columbia introduce scholarships for Iraqi students. This has raised audience engagement to a low whooping level.

Update, 2:14 pm: The event reached a monumental finale when a banner was flung from Butler (Bwog was mighty impressed) and Alma Mater was veiled and surrounded by a militant bunch of arm-linkers. Bwog remains a bit confused about why the banner looks like a pink dress, and about why the veil looks like it was made of some sort of do-rag material. Sunbathers seemed befuddled but engaged. The clanging of the bell has recommenced.

Photos after the jump




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  1. Gap

    woah. there are t-shirts?

    yeah, that should end the war.

    i'm sure they were made in america too.

  2. Anti-War Alum

    This isn't a protest. It's another self-righteous spectacle.

    • hypocritical

      but in saying that, you're being self-righteous! they're just doing their thing, and you're being smug and intolerant. most people at this school don't support the war, so what's wrong with some people actually doing something about it?

    • IDEA!  

      come protest the protesters' protest!

    • yes  

      you certainly sound like someone who believes there's a difference - i'm sure there are lots of protests you think are positive and have even participated in, right? right.

      • Anti-War Alum

        A few, actually, including the February 2003 protest. My opposition to this protest hinges on its purpose, which is to say, it has none. Sure, the protesters aim to end the war, but protesting Columbia will not do that. Most of the student body, faculty, and administration is likely in agreement about the war.

        Instead, it's designed to "raise awareness." The behavior I described as "self-righteous" is the self-centered nature of this design. Because it has no external consequences, it really only serves as a cathartic experience for its participants. They feel better, but they've accomplished nothing in a practical sense if the community is already aware (as Columbia's is).

        But, you may say, the goal of this protest was divestment. Does anyone actually believe that the piddling investments Columbia has made make any sort of difference when the annual defense budget (NOT including Iraq) is over half a trillion dollars? That means helping to elect officials who oppose the war and support the withdrawal of troops not putting a cloth over Alma Mater's head.

        • ok...  

          supposing i believe you that you do actually support some protest. i dont understand how anyone commenting on bwog can claim that columbian's are, collectively, already on the right side regarding the war. you apparently *do* read comments besides your own - after all, you just replied to one - so i'm at a loss.

          divestment. columbia's investments alone are certainly not enough influence defense contractor behavior. but divestment would be precedent-setting and big news (imagine the Bill O'Reilly reaction), a great lever for student protesters to reach a national audience, while simply raising the issue short of a victory still is useful in highlighting the complicity in the war all of us in the US share and the responsibility that gives us to act.

          electing better officials. which, exactly? do you trust any of them to keep their rather vague antiwar promises without grassroots pressure?

          • Anti-War Alum

            Collectively, I would guess most are in favor of the war's end to varying degrees. There is likely a great deal of disagreement over specifics, but general agreement about the war.

            That said, it wouldn't be a precedent. Divestment has been used before. If coupled with a large, non-student movement for divestment, the opposition to Apartheid comes to mind, then today's protest would have some impact. But such a public movement does not exist. Perhaps, instead of protesting Columbia, the students should have tried to mobilize the general public in Morningside or Manhattan or even the entire city.

            Sadly, the (current) elected officials do require grassroots pressure. But the protesters weren't pressuring officials. They were pressuring the university. I do hold out hope that the Responsible Plan (Responsibleplan.com) drafted by Darcy Burner, a congressional candidate in Washington State, and signed by dozens of other candidates does represent a sea change in the manner in which our elected officials deal with the war. This time, they may actually, you know, end it. For those who need the pressure to do the right thing, however, protests not directed at them will not provide the necessary pressure.

          • well  

            though most columbians seem to think of themselves as somehow antiwar, there seem to be a pretty large number who don't really give a shit and certainly don't intend to do anything about it. half of columbia students don't even vote (at least according to Jonathan Backer's spec op-ed a month back).

            you'll find that no university has done any kind of divestment on the basis of the iraq war. if columbia did, that would be huge.

            i'm not sure why pressuring elected officials and pressuring the university are supposed to be mutually exclusive. rally speakers certainly talked about elected officials. is the idea that you have to protest in DC, or at your rep's office, to pressure them? i think that's pretty clearly simplistic, especially if one looks at things with a movement-building perspective.

          • ...  

            that's what cracks me up. the media loves to paint this place as some kind of superliberal cauldron of extremism. in reality, most students here seem either apathetic or even right leaning, perhaps in response to the portrayal of the school in popular media.

            i really don't care what foxnews says, columbia is not liberal.

  3. Dems

    are not planning anything

  4. hooooooooraaaaaaaayy  

    for liberals! We're such good people, walking out of our classes, buying American Apparel t-shirts. This is 68 all over again.

  5. Gap

    wait. are they really american apparel t-shirts? those are like $15 a piece. if that's what they're giving out, i'm going just for a new shirt to sleep in. oh, so comfy.

    can anyone confirm that they're american apparel?

    • additionally

      something in me makes me hope you are subtly trolling. but after 4 years here, really, i wouldn't be surprised if this is a popular sentiment. hellooooooooooo self-involvement!

  6. djk  

    It's important that this war be a part of our daily lives. The government is at war, but its people remain detached and are not forced to internalize the ramifications. It seems to me that targeting this sense of aloofness is more than worthwhile.

    • yup  

      I agree. Shut up about how it's ruining your beautiful days and remember the sacrifices. Agree with the war or not, people are still dying. US citizens are responsible for US policy, and you are responsible for what is happening in Iraq. Educate yourself.

      It's not as simple as one vote, either. If you aren't happy with the government, you can do more than vote for a new administration. Educate others as well. Sure, protest. Bring it back to the public discourse (any thoughts on the utter lack of Iraq coverage in the evening news?). Step up and take responsibility for your membership in a democracy.

  7. awareness

    typically I'm on the side of those arguing for the futility of such spectacles. but I had no idea Columbia had $5m invested in Iraq War contractors, and kudos to the protesters for publicizing that fact. a banner from butler probably = 15 whiny spec editorials in terms of getting people to pay attention, so it's worthwhile when the subject is this important.

  8. masturbation

    College protesters: shitting where they eat since 1968.

  9. art class

    looks like the thing on alma's face is meant to echo the prisoner abuse at abu ghraib. those face bags were the same material.

    remember that? like, i know it was, like, such a looooong time ago...

    the dress has got me puzzled though, too. think of the children, perhaps?

  10. while...  

    i am pissed that they veiled Alma Mater (it kinda borders on desecration), it does send the right signal about Iraq.

    but hey, since when was Columbia not stirring up some attention? i'm pretty proud to be part of this university because of it...

  11. Wait,

    So the dems are now in support of divesting from military contractors? Because I'm pretty sure they were opposed to EXACTLY THAT last year...


    "2) The Coalition "compromise" wasn't to limit it to specific groups - that was absolutely something never communicated to the Dems. The compromise was to call for study rather than demand divestment, and to call for it only for the duration of the war. The Democrats are anti-war, and not anti-military (we don't want tanks in Iraq, but we do think that someone needs to make tanks because they do need to be used legitimately on occasion), and as such we are very wary about any calls for divestment from defense contractors. In addition, at least one corporation discussed is also involved in rebuilding the Gulf Coast, and we felt that pulling our investment from that company sent the wrong message. "

  12. Nope  

    Dems as an organization didn't endorse todays events. Because they're pro-military because of the numerous psotiive things the american military does in addition to the atrocities......righhhttt. And theyre not for divestment because big corporations also do good things like rebuild new orleans for displaced people! righghhtttt.

  13. gold stars  

    These have been some of the best protest visual aids since 3rd grade!

  14. Creativity reigns

    The genius stroke of political theater was to turn Alma Mater into Cobra Commander, followed by a defiant-faced circle jerk? Lame.

    Hahaha: http://i7.photobucket.com/albums/y273/Akio666/467px-CobraCommander-150.jpg

  15. anonymous

    Again - lame. Really lame.

  16. Rudolf Rocker  

    The action is intended to echo the iconic image of Abu Ghraib. The face of Alma Mater is hooded, and her hands are attached to wires. The banner reads, in full, "Stop War Divest Now". The participants acted as individuals; the action was not endorsed by any group. The participants are students at the University. Thanks to the anonymous students who engaged with the action, contributing ideas and assistance on the steps and in the library. We are invested in this war -- and in many wars -- as subjects of this institution and of the United States, and we have a responsibility to dissent.

    "Part of my self-induced stupidity, I confess, is to believe (& even feel) that art can change me, & change others. That's why I write pornography & propaganda--to cause change. Art can never mean as much as a love affair, perhaps, or an insurrection. But...to a certain extent...it works." (Hakim Bey, T.A.Z.)

    • not buying it  

      lets be honest here. this was nothing more than a huge circle jerk. now go back to wherever you came from your poor, oppressed, white, upper-middle class suburbanites.

      • convert  

        your honesty has gotten through to me. i now see that since i face no severe personal oppression, i have an obligation not to give a shit about iraqis. or at least, if i cant help myself from giving a shit, i have an obligation not to do anything about it. since i wouldn't directly benefit, it would be mere masturbation. no more protests for this white male member of the middle class! off to wall street for me!

  17. Neville Chamberlain

    I support the anti-war protest.

    • fail  

      #29 / #31: if you want to troll bwog comments effectively, you should either wait for a response to your first lure before trying a second, or switch ips. as it is, your pathetic need for attention is obvious.

      • Pro-peace grad

        Yes, I know how Bwog tracks comments. That's why we can be creative with our names, no? I don't see myself as a troll - I'm pointing out why anti-war protests over Iraq are anti-peace, and that the appeasement and confrontation-aversion - and you can add isolationist - impulse is not new in our culture. As you know, WW2 didn't entirely end in 1945, either, in that the subsequent peace-building required decades of our involvement. We're still engaged today with our WW2 foes, in almost entirely positive ways. Early during the Cold War, however, President Kennedy recognized that the continuing evolution of insurgency would be the greatest threat to liberal peace-building. Our defeat in Vietnam greatly accelerated that evolution. Today in Iraq, we are (belatedly) undertaking a counterinsurgency of the kind championed by JFK.

        OIF is a hard mission, one we were unprepared for the post-major combat peace operations when we entered it; forced on a steep evolutionary learning curve of our own, we're finally getting it right. The stakes haven't changed. Our success in Iraq, and the wider Long War, would lead us and the world down one path. Our failure in Iraq, especially the self-induced catastrophic defeat favored by anti-war protestors, would lead us and the world down a different path. One path is harder now and better later. The other is easier now but much scarier later. That's our choice.

  18. i really hope  

    many of will question why your immediate response to an anti-war protest is smugness and sarcasm.

    is it because you do not believe there is a war going on? is it because you support the death of (a recorded) 90,000 iraqi civillians?

    and if it is because you sit back and say: that isn't going to do anything.


    thank you.

    • Maybe because

      the 'anti-war' movement is morally bankrupt and illiberal. The anti-war position boils down to, historically, supporting the continuation of Saddam's bloody regime in combination with indefinite sanctions and containment imposed by the international community. In the present, the anti-war position amounts to abandoning Iraq and the Iraqi people to whomever battles to seize control in the void left by us - and woe to any Iraqi who believed our liberal promises. For a liberal outcome in Iraq, and beyond Iraq, peace must be nurtured, built and enforced. Anti-war protests are not always anti-peace, but when it comes to our current Petraeus-led peace operations in Iraq, the anti-war protests are anti-peace.

  19. you're  

    all so naive...it's clear that the REAL purpose of these protests is to try to one-up the 68'ers.

    The 5-year anniversary of the war was in March. The 40 year anniversary of the 1968 protests? This very week, my friends!

  20. banner bichas

    we appreciate the thoughts! ha ha.

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