By Andrew Fraley
After over five years of fighting, over 4,000 American deaths and over 1,000,000 Iraqi deaths, students on campus remain active in stopping the illegal and immoral war in Iraq. On Tuesday, April 29 a coalition of Long Island organizations, including the Social Justice Alliance (SJA) and the Graduate Student Employees Union (GSEU), held an all-day public name reading of the Iraqis and Americans who have been killed in Iraq since March 2003. The reading was held from 9am to 5pm in the SAC lobby, and included only a small fraction of the total deaths in Iraq.
The reading was held in conjunction with The Iraq War Moratorium, a national campaign calling for the immediate withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. The moratorium was inspired by the 1969 Vietnam Moratorium and holds readings every third Friday of the month. The organizers for this event held it on a Tuesday, since more people would be available and around on Tuesday–many students, faculty and staff aren’t around on Fridays.
In addition to the names of the dead Iraqi civilians and American soldiers, participants also read their ages, occupations and personal histories. This was done to give a human face to the impersonal statistics and numbers. Kevin Young, a graduate student and member of both the GSEU and SJA, explained, “Although many people have some vague sense of the human tragedy in Iraq, the war still feels ‘unreal’ or abstract. It’s very easy to stay disconnected from the human consequences of the occupation, especially with a mainstream news media that rarely, if ever, presents the personal histories of Iraqis under occupation.”
Organizers of the reading wanted to promote awareness of the sheer magnitude of the death toll in Iraq. A poll by the Associated Press in February 2007 found that on average, citizens believe the death toll for Iraqi civilians is around 10,000. Alex Sain, 21, says that the death toll is well over 1,000,000. An undergraduate and secretary of the SJA, Sain said, “There are a lot of independent sources who have done their own calculations, based on [information from] morgues and other reports. It’s not a totally accurate figure, but it’s well 1,000,000. Our goal is to show that this really is an immoral war, and I don’t know how people justify equating mass murder with democracy building.” Even the American death toll is over 4,000 now. In the time between the design of the fliers for the event and the reading itself, the number of American deaths rose from 4,052 to 4,056. The two on the flier was scratched out and replaced by a six, emphasizing the rapidity with which people are dying in this war. In addition to awareness, organizers are hoping to promote action with this reading.
“We’re completely disconnected from this war,” said Sain, “It doesn’t really affect us that much. It’s really easy to forget there’s a war going on. We don’t have food shortages, we don’t have to ration, we really don’t have to sacrifice anything.” The name reading was just one of many things the SJA has done to promote student involvement in order to end this war, and prevent future wars. Over Spring Break, the SJA attended the fifth anniversary demonstration held in Washington DC. “It’s really in [students’] best interest that we end this,” explained Sain, “Especially [since] education is being cut to fund these wars. As students, we have a vested interest in our future. A perpetual war and democracy can’t really go hand-in-hand.” Apart from anti-war movements, the SJA has been involved with other causes on campus, most notably the movement to remove Coca Cola from campus for their numerous workers’ rights violations.
The GSEU has also been involved with anti-war movements on campus. They passed a resolution in March supporting Iraqi oil workers’ rights to unionize (a right impeded by the American occupation authorities) among other things. As Young describes, “Many within GSEU are seeing that foreign wars and a military based economy hurt working people by diverting money from health care, public education, public housing, etc. This link is especially clear as we see the budget for higher education being cut in New York State and around the country, a phenomenon that will likely continue as the US continues through the current recession.” The GSEU is striving to bring an end to the war and any future military action in the region.
Passersbys were, in general, very receptive to the readings. Young explained, “Many were interested enough to approach our table, sign up for our email list and get some information about our event. Especially with the current economic crisis and cuts to education, health care, housing, etc., people are realizing that a militaristic and interventionist policy overseas hurts us all, not just the soldiers who fight or the occupied populations themselves.” One person even decided to donate their time to the cause. Helene Volat, a librarian at Stony Brook, volunteered at the event saying, “I hope to bring an immediate end to the war. This is an unnecessary war and should not have been authorized in the first place. We are no safer because of it.” On the whole, the event accomplished much of what it had set out to achieve.
For students who wish to get actively involved in the effort to end the war in Iraq, both Young and Sain encourage them come to SJA meetings, which are held Tuesdays from 7-8pm in the third floor lounge of the SAC (meeting times might be different next semester). They also encourage students to get on the anti-war email list by emailing StonyBrookPeace@gmail.com. The Iraq War Moratorium campaign also suggests that concerned war opponents, among others, contact members of Congress and wear accessories supporting the anti-war movement. More information can be found at www.IraqMoratorium.com.