Activists gather to oppose war violence

By LauraNalin

Students, activists and faculty gathered at a symbolic “die-in” on Oct. 7 to commemorate civilian lives lost in Afghanistan over the past eight years during the U.S. occupancy. The participants of the event volunteered to emulate dying by lying on the ground, giving the public a visual of the casualties that have taken place.

Andy Keil/THE CHRONICLEThe volunteers were given white sheets to cover themselves as students read and sang the names of civilians who have been killed since 2001. The ages of the slain civilians ranged anywhere from 18 months to 85 years old. Volunteers also read aloud the date of the civilians’ passing to focus all attention on the civilians rather than opposing the war.The event was held at 11th Street and Wabash Avenue from 4 to 5 p.m.

Madelyn George, the student organizer for the event, found the experience quite powerful.  “I expected it to be a personally moving experience, but I didn’t expect the moment I would get under the sheet, I would start crying,” George said. “I feel grateful for all the people I know that are alive because we thankfully don’t have a lot of civilian casualties happening here everyday.  I also feel pretty hopeful.”

Eric Scholl, coordinator for the Critical Encounters: Fact and Faith series, said he agrees that it was an impactful experience to hear the names read aloud. “I’m not so sure if the government wants to know everybody in a personal first-name basis, so lying under the sheet hearing the names, dates and ages was really shocking—one, two, three years old,” Scholl said. “When you’re under a sheet you have nothing else to think about.  It is very moving.”

Passers-by stopped to glance at the bodies sprawled on the ground of Columbia’s Sculpture Garden.

“I was leaving class and I just ran into it,” said Columbia television writing senior,  Dan Luke. “I’d seen protests in the past like this, I knew there are civilian casualties, but I never gave it much thought. To see people putting that together and calling out the names was effective and got me thinking about it more than I ever thought about it actually.”

Mary Zerkel, the Chicago Peacebuilding program director for American Friends Service Committee, said she was honored to be working with Columbia. She said this is the first year in four years that a student organized one of their annual die-ins.

The participants who were not lying down on the ground held signs displaying photos of children that had been injured or killed, along with signs opposing the violence in Afghanistan. In the center of the garden was a table with flyers provided by the AFSC with records of statistics regarding the history of the war, as well as information about Afghanistan, the economic cost and the human cost of the war. It also included information about cluster bombs—bombs that open in midair and spew hundreds of small bomblets throughout a large area—which they cite as one of the most hazardous weapons to civilians.

Michael McConnell, regional director for the AFSC, said he was pleased with the turnout, especially because students were the main participants.

“When I was a student, it was students [who] stopped the Vietnam War and I think that students active now can stop not only these wars, but also the United States’ reliance on the military as a way of solving problems,” McConnell said. “We need to find other means of negotiation and diplomacy through actually feeding and helping countries rebuild their infrastructure.  That’s the way to stop the conditions for war from

being perpetuated.”

After the reading of the 100 civilians names was complete, those who had voluntarily “died” uncovered themselves and stood up as Scholl thanked them for attending. The attendees stood in silence and the atmosphere was somber as they took in what they had just experienced for the past 45 minutes.

Kevin Valentine, a graduate student in interdisciplinary arts and media, has been involved in similar movements for the past decade. He is currently working on his thesis on raising money and awareness for three widows in Iraq. Before attending the event, he drew 800 lines in the sand at the 31st Street Beach in respect of the anniversary of the war.

“We can’t forget that we are responsible to a certain extent for both the Iraq and Afghan war and that responsibility doesn’t mean just yanking ourselves out of there militarily or staying militarily,” Valentine said. “The responsibility is rebuilding the countries. If we want a democracy built, we have to be serious about it. We can’t be sending corporations and pay them lots of money to try to do it. People there have to do it and we have

to allow them.”