When the war in Iraq started, many of Pittsburgh's undergrads were still in high school. Some were even younger. And after five years of American occupation, some of those students (with help from their older classmates) are trying to reorganize and revitalize the antiwar movement on campus.
"If you're 18, what have you seen? Shit," says University of Pittsburgh grad student Vanessa Wills. "You've seen union struggles be crushed. You've seen your parents lose their pensions. ... One of the challenges is winning something."
Wills expects to see hundreds of students at a planned student antiwar march on March 29 (meeting at noon at Pitt's William Pitt Union), which will serve as one of two "feeder marches" for a larger demonstration, organized by the Thomas Merton Center Antiwar Committee. The main march, which is starting in front of CMU's Software Engineering Institute (at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and S. Craig Street in Oakland), is part of a package of events that antiwar activist David Meieran hopes will attack what he calls the "pillars" of war.
The logo for the antiwar Web site 5YearsTooMany.org shows three silhouetted figures breaking the five symbolic pillars Meieran refers to: the military, tax money, the media, corporations and the "security state."
Meieran, a member of the Garfield-based Merton Center, a peace and social-justice organization, says research centers like Carnegie Mellon University receive Department of Defense contracts, and are therefore links in the military chain.
"I'm really excited that we're using the Software Engineering [Institute] as a starting point," he says. "It really is a military base that is funded by the Department of Defense."
Meieran is also optimistic that there are students out there who feel strongly about the war, even if they're not currently organized.
Wills, who did her undergraduate work at Princeton University, came to Pitt in 2002 to study philosophy. A couple of years ago she moved to Philadelphia, but continued to work on her Pitt doctorate.
When she returned to Pittsburgh in 2007, she found the student antiwar movement disoriented and disorganized.
For starters, Pitt Against War, a student group that used to meet regularly and coordinate activities, "fell apart this year," she says.
"In terms of core people who can organize people, there just weren't enough of those last fall, so [Pitt Against War] became inactive," explains John Clendaniel, a Pitt student who was previously active in the group.
Wills also blames infighting among two of the largest national antiwar organizations, UFPJ (United For Peace and Justice) and ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) for having a "trickledown of disorientation" effect.
Wills is optimistic, though, that a new, student antiwar group will rise from the upcoming march and resume regular meetings.
She has created a Facebook online "event" to promote the March 29 rally. At press time, 200 students from a variety of area universities and high schools had already confirmed that they would be attending.
"That just gives us an immediate way to contact people," she says, adding that organizers will be out during the march with sign-up sheets for future meetings and rallies.
Prior to the march, the Merton Center will be screening live video of veterans talking about their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. The March 29 march and rally will be preceded by a March 28 dusk-to-dawn vigil at the Community of Reconciliation Church.
"I'm really excited by [demonstration plans, but] it's horrible that it has to happen," Meieran says.
Screenings: 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Fri., March 14 (Thomas Merton Center, 5125 Penn Ave., Garfield); and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sat., March 15 (Community of Reconciliation Church, Fifth and Bellefield avenues, Oakland). 412-361-3022.