By Nick Nodine and Alex Wilkins
Over 100,000 lives lost, $815 billion spent and years of fierce protest.
President George W. Bush announced his global war on terror after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Just over a year later, he announced a full-scale invasion of Iraq, using suspicion of active weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as rationale.
Yet 18 months into the war, Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group, released a report showing there was no evidence of any active WMDs.
The Iraq War was one of the most heavily protested events in world history, both before and after no WMDs were found, with an estimated 10 to 15 million people demonstrating in more than 600 cities on a single day in February 2003.
“A lot of pro-war people turned against the war within a year of the invasion, once we learned there were no weapons of mass destruction,” said Paul Ortiz, associate professor of community studies at UC Santa Cruz at the time, who was heavily involved in faculty protests against the war.
Ortiz helped draw support for a faculty resolution against the war, which passed unanimously in UCSC’s Academic Senate on Feb. 19, 2003. This came three months after the Student Union Assembly passed a resolution condemning a preemptive military attack on Iraq.
Driving forces behind UCSC’s anti-war movement were the student activist groups Standing United for Peace (SUP) and, a year after SUP’s disbandment, Students Against War (SAW).
Marla Zubel, a key figure in both SUP and SAW, was a first-year student when Bush announced his plans for Iraq military intervention on Oct. 2, 2002. Later that week, she joined about 700 fellow students in SUP’s walk-out against the potential invasion of Iraq, coinciding with the first anniversary of the start of military operations in Afghanistan.
“There was this sense that we were going to war,” Zubel said. “And there was this real hope that maybe we could stop it.”
SUP met every Friday above the Bay Tree Bookstore, to organize students. This led to a 150-strong march on Nov. 20, 2002, as part of a national day of action. Protesters chanted and danced through the UCSC campus, dressed with drums and military fatigues. Some protesters partook in a “die-in,” where members pretended to execute each other while “corpses” laid among the crowd.
While trying to engage and educate students on campus, SUP’s members were supported by the anti-war efforts in town.
After Bush made his case for an Iraq invasion to the UN Security Council on Sept. 12, 2002, Santa Cruz City Council voted on Sept. 24 to pass a formal opposition to the Iraq War — the first city in the U.S. to do so. Over 90 city councils across the country followed Santa Cruz, passing their own anti-war resolutions.
The Santa Cruz community, including students and faculty, raised both moral and fiscal concerns about going to war.
“If we have money to invest in war, why not invest in students? That’s understood by students here and at many other universities,” said Hiroshi Fukurai, a sociology professor who has been at UCSC since 1990 and was involved in the Iraq anti-war protests. “The Hellfire missile, used in wars all the time, costs about $70,000 a missile. And what is it good for? Destroying people. Why not invest in education?”
With so much anti-war sentiment on campus and in the city, Zubel said SUP members felt that if they “just demonstrated, plugged in and organized,” they could stop the war.
But SUP had its last protest on March 5, 2003, two weeks before the official invasion of Iraq. About 300 students marched through campus as part of a nationwide day of action called by the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition. In addition to student, faculty and activist speeches, about 50 students formed a human peace sign on East Field below Stevenson College.
Despite protests on local and national levels, the government continued with military action.
“We expected more of a quick fix than we [got],” said Zubel. “The fact that Bush could just get up there and say, ‘No, I don’t care that people are protesting all over the world.’ It kind of destroyed the organization — I think the blow was too much.”
SUP became inactive in mid-2003 after the organization lost morale and key members graduated.
In hopes of keeping activism alive on campus, Zubel and other students created a monthly newspaper called The Project in fall 2003. Their objective was to “document and inspire strategic radical actions relevant to local, regional and global socioeconomic injustice,” according to the paper’s mission statement.
By allowing student activists to continue the anti-war conversation, The Project helped to create a new group on campus called Students Against War (SAW), over two years after the formation of SUP.
On Jan. 20, 2005, SAW formed following an anti-war demonstration of about 20 students in front of McHenry Library. Participants met after the rally to discuss the group’s next steps.
“It wasn’t happening on Facebook or Twitter, it was happening on butcher paper and marker pens,” Zubel said.
From the beginning, SAW gravitated toward local and more specific and achievable goals than SUP. One main goal was to stop military personnel, scheduled for their annual appearance at UCSC’s Career Fair on April 5, 2005, from recruiting on campus.
“We had never done something where a large group of people had marched in and forced [military recruiters] out,” Zubel said. “We were pretty nervous about it.”
In preparation, SAW flyered, spoke to packed lecture halls, phone banked and “dorm stormed,” or knocked on students’ doors to give them a copy of The Project to advertise its next action. Members also delegated responsibilities of writing press releases, leading marches, starting chants and riding ahead of the procession on bicycles to ensure no police blockages.
“We thought if we could do it, and other people could see that we could do it,” Zubel said, “Then we could really try to put a wrench in the war machine.”
On the day of the career fair, SAW organizers, carrying walkie-talkies and handmade posters, headed for the Cowell/Stevenson Dining Hall. Once inside, SAW members flung open the emergency exits as dozens of protesters crowded the room, while about 400 more remained outside.
Students chanted as about 50 demonstrators surrounded the recruitment desk, seizing military paraphernalia and demanding the recruiters leave campus immediately. Protesters were ecstatic when university staff and recruiters agreed to the demands.
Six months later, military recruiters returned to campus for the next career fair. This time, the university was prepared for SAW’s protests, giving the military recruiters their own separate room with campus police on guard. But SAW protesters were still undeterred.
“We marched pretty militantly. The crowd was smaller [this time], but emboldened and empowered,” Zubel said. Protesters were in “black bloc,” dressed head to toe in black clothing with faces covered.
Though SAW faced a greater challenge of protesting the second time around, recruiters and protesters negotiated to let a few members into the building. After entering, they tore down the recruiters’ display, ripped up flyers and military paraphernalia and once again demanded the recruiters leave campus. The military recruiters left and, for a second time, SAW achieved its goal.
But their triumph was short-lived. In December 2005, SAW members discovered they were the only group considered “a credible threat to national security” on a 400 page list of mostly anti-war protests compiled by the Pentagon’s Counterintelligence Field Agency. The list was part of a database of information “indicative of possible terrorist pre-attack activity.”
SAW members were shocked and outraged. Denice D. Denton, who was chancellor at the time, and Democrat Representative Sam Farr, among others, demanded an explanation for the Pentagon’s actions. After considerable campaigning, the Pentagon removed the students from the list in February 2006.
Even with the support of faculty and several successful protests, SUP and SAW failed to put an end to the Iraq War. But their efforts did not go unnoticed.
“In terms of success, it’s always a continuous movement,” said Hiroshi Fukurai, a faculty member involved in anti-war protests. “You have to keep continuing [and] struggling. Perhaps in your generation or lifetime, you may not achieve what you want to achieve. But unless you start, nothing is going to change.”