Protest targets military at SBCC

Benoit Lebourgeois

The anti-war activism of the ’60s re-ignited Thursday for four loud hours of protest against the presence of military recruiters on campus.

More than 150 demonstrators gathered on West Campus and protested the fourth annual Armed Forces Career Day. Recruiters had set up information tables at 10 a.m. and soon protestors arrived. The event typically attracts little attention, but with mounting casualties and declining support for the war in Iraq, this year’s recruitment drive faced the vocal objection of a large group of loosely organized students.

“It is a message to people higher up that we don’t support ludicrous wars while our educational system is falling apart,” said Leif Skogberg, a student who came to lend his support to the demonstrators. “Our government is spending billions of dollars on a war for oil and imperialism,” he said, weary of the official justifications for the conflict.

The boisterous but well-behaved protesters marched and chanted within four or five feet of the recruiters who stood passively. Alternatively, all noise ceased, and an eerie minute of silence elbowed out the chanting and drumming. A cacophony of slogans and a forest of signs like “Off Our Campus,” “You Are Not Welcome,” Stop Bush Lies,” “Troops Come Home,” and “We Won’t Kill For Greed” promptly resumed.

“It is their God-given right to voice their opinion,” said Marine Corps Sgt. Kelly Cardinell. In uniform and standing straight, Cardinell kept a close eye on the crowd movements. He said the reaction at City College contrasted with Santa Barbara High School where he was “received with open arms,” but felt that “the people who want to join will join.”

Army Sgt. 1st Class Will Gray confirmed the opinion.

“They are trying to distract us from getting potential recruits,” he said. “If anything, this is going to boost interest because of the commotion.”

Present at the protest, Jack Friedlander, executive vice president of educational programs, said City College does not discriminate against any employer. The school welcomes military recruiters, he said, even if the armed forces discriminate against gays because “the federal courts have allowed it to go forward.”

Three members of the Associated Students Senate joined the protest, appearing not as senators but as individual students. In a black outfit and his voice hoarse from chanting with senator Pablo Lopez, president Omar Damacela-Friend spoke of his exasperation at the official administrative procedures that he said often discourage students from voicing their dissent.

“We don’t have our shared governance,” he said.

Nearby, student trustee Maria L. Garcia, holding a sign, paused briefly from marching.

“I am student Maria Garcia, voicing her opinion,” she said. Garcia is the commencement speaker at this year’s graduation ceremony.

Other protesters were more confrontational. Annette Russell, a student with Students For Peace, one of the campus clubs organizing the protest along with Veterans For Peace, MeCha and Mujeres Unidades.

“We don’t want our campus recruiting under false pretenses,” said Russell. “They (the military) are showing commercials of people playing football, and that is not their life,” she said.

Student Marc Dunn adopted a less quarrelsome stance. “I believe all sides have a valuable point,” he said. “Everybody mentions the effects, but nobody mentions the causes. What is causing war?”

Campus security estimated the crowd to number between 50 and 150 participants. A handful of students hoisted signs in support of the recruiters, including Barbara O’Dowd, the editor in chief of The Channels, who was there for personal reasons.

The protest concluded peacefully, with only one report of a minor scuffle.

Air Force Reserve Sergeant Emory Summers adopted a detached perspective. “I’m out in the sun,” he said. “I’m having a good time.”

Editors’ note: Barbara O’Dowd, editor in chief of The Channels supported the recruiters on Armed Forces Career Day and was covered in the local news media. She was there in her personal capacity and did not represent The Channels. Also, she did not play any role in the writing, editing or publishing of this story.