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Community protests Iraq conflict

A. Marcela Berrios | Monday, November 19, 2007

A group of about 40 students and South Bend residents gathered Friday at the University main gate on Notre Dame Avenue to protest the continued war in Iraq, as well as any form of armed conflict around the globe.

Sophomore Beck Roan said he organized the demonstration during the last football weekend of the season to take advantage of the increased alumni presence on campus and “spread the message to as many people as possible.”

“There are so many of us here at Notre Dame that are anti-war,” Roan said. “There is clearly a focus on the war in Iraq, but really, we are opposed to all kinds of armed conflict.”

Holding a full-scale banner with the peace sign but no writing, Roan said he thought there was a need on campus for an event where people like him, who don’t support violence and occupation, could express their opinions.

The Student Activities Office authorized Roan’s proposal for a demonstration – even if it wasn’t officially sponsored by any student club or organization on campus – under the condition the event remained student-run throughout, Roan said.

He encouraged students to participate with a Facebook invitation and by informing clubs and groups that would be interested, including the Progressive Student Alliance. Roan also invited city residents through the Michiana Coalition for Peace and Justice, since the organization holds a weekly protest against the war in Iraq in downtown South Bend.

Steve Francis, a 1987 Notre Dame graduate and a member of the Coalition, took Roan up on his invitation and brought about six other Coalition members to hold up “Honk for peace” posters as cars drove by the University main gate Friday.

“We’ve been getting lots and lots of honks today, I’ll tell you. Including one from a fire truck,” Francis said. “I’ve been active against the war [in Iraq] since it began and I remember we wouldn’t get these many honks back then.”

Francis said he has noticed in the last three years “a turn in how the general public feels about Iraq.”

“Now things are at a point where almost every car that drives by is honking. It’s deafening how many people want this war to end already,” Francis said.

There were a few cars that drove by and yelled out profanities to him and the other demonstrators, but Francis said he remained optimistic about the overall success of Friday’s protest in promoting peace and the end of occupation in Iraq.

“Just look at the great turnout we got,” he said. “And it’s a cold Friday evening.”

Roan said he was pleased with the amount of students that showed up with banners and posters, saying the numbers exceeded his expectations.

Sophomore Guru Velasco said he heard about the protest from different friends and decided to participate because he’s personally opposed to armed conflicts, as “violence breeds more violence.”

He believes demonstrations like Friday’s are effective in showing the rest of the country and its leaders how many people share this pacifist view.

“Hopefully we can make people stop and really think about what the war [in Iraq] implies, and we can create awareness about that and spread the message to more and more people. And maybe it’ll eventually reach the people who have the power to end it,” Velasco said.

Sophomore Bridget Mahoney said she decided to join the demonstrators because she wants the American troops abroad to return to their homes. She said she knows “someone who did two tours in Afghanistan.”

“He has four children and I know it was really hard on his family while he was gone,” Mahoney said.

She said she hopes the troops still stationed abroad share her friend’s luck and return to the country safely. But the Associated Press reported Sunday that at least 850 soldiers have died in Iraq in 2007, making it the deadliest year since the war began in 2003.

So new foreign policies that can stop the bleeding are in order, protesters said.

Sophomore Caroline Hawes said she joined Friday’s demonstrators to “protest both the continued war in Iraq and the policies that haven’t shown any sign of working.”

Hawes and senior Heather Frost both said they were happy with Friday’s turnout, even though many of the students usually involved in anti-war movements on campus were unable to attend Roan’s protest because they were in Georgia for another protest.

“Many of the kids that would normally be here went to the School of the Americas vigil,” Frost said. “That’s why it’s all the more amazing how many people came out [Friday] to support the cause.”