- The Washington Times - Friday, January 17, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 17 (UPI) — Anti-war activities on university campuses across the United States are gaining momentum, as student protestors from around the country prepare to march in a peace rally in Washington Saturday.

This weekend's protests are made urgent by the recent military build-up in the Persian Gulf region and Thursday's discovery of empty chemical warheads in Iraq, a development the White House called "disturbing."

Along with fighting against a potential war in Iraq, students are also battling apathy on their campuses. In the campus battle, students seem to be gaining ground.

At Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., only a dozen students signed up to join the anti-war rally in Washington but 400 students — a tenth of the university's population — signed a petition stating that they would walk out of classes in the event of a U.S. attack.

"There will always be people who say, 'I'm not interested in politics' or who say, 'What can I do?' They don't think they can make a difference," said Steve Laferriere, a member of the Student Anti-War Coalition at Brandeis.

Laferriere said that despite those who aren't willing to get involved, there has been a significant increase of campus anti-war sentiment, and not just within the coalition's membership numbers.

"The students who are getting involved are not necessarily peace activists but just people who don't think that war against Iraq is just."

Boston Mobilization, a group that organizes and teaches high school and college students about social issues, has 150 people booked to come to Washington and more on a waiting list.

"It's interesting to see how quickly people are getting involved," said Amie Riley, a youth organizer for Boston Mobilization.

"It seems like the anti-war sentiment is growing," she said. "People at least want to be a little more educated."

Students at the University of Michigan and the University of Maryland have formed their own anti-war groups, which are finding increasing support for the groups and their activities as the prospects of a war in Iraq becomes more probable.

"It seems that there is a growing support in the community against the war," said Yoni Goldstein, a member of the University of Michigan's Anti-War Action, whose initial meeting drew approximately 500 students.

Still, there are certain elements that threaten to slow the momentum that the anti-war groups have felt on university campuses across the country.

"It's not apathy that we have to fight against; it's the feeling that there is no other alternative (to war)," said Goldstein, who finds many students feel that the troop build-up in the Persian Gulf region means war is inevitable.

Another concern is that the rallies and events staged to educate and challenge those with a pro-war stance attract only those predisposed to the anti-war position. "Being involved in activism is almost like preaching to the choir," said Goldstein.

Of course, this is not always a failure because, "there is a necessity for the solidarity and morale build-up" that the rallies provide for the anti-war activists, Goldstein said.

The University of Maryland's Peace Forum, founded shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, has enjoyed strong membership, with over 100 people involved and 30 to 40 students at each meeting.

Since its formation the Peace Forum has been involved in several protests and educational events, such as bringing former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter to the university to give a peace lecture.

Although Peace Forum founding member Mark Gubrud said there has been strong response to the group's efforts, he realizes one of the activists' greatest challenges is student apathy.

Meanwhile, since returning from winter break just two weeks ago, the Boston University organization Students United for Peace has gained 40 new members.

"Last semester there was a new wave of sentiments against the war. There's a new energy on campus and a lot more is happening than before," said SUP member Pam Mendelson.

"The biggest obstacle is making people feel like it's going to make a difference. They just feel disempowered, but it's a process, it won't happen overnight."

The peace rally in October drew about 100,000 people to Washington. Along with the rally in Washington Saturday, anti-war action also is planned for San Francisco and other U.S. cities as well as more than 30 foreign countries.

Participants in the Washington rally will march from the west side of the Capitol to the D.C. Navy Yard. Among the speakers and performers, will be Patti Smith, Rev. Al Sharpton, Muslim student associations and Ramsey Clark, former U.S. attorney general.

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