Anti-war march marks anniversary

About 2000 peace activists in Pittsburgh walked three miles from East Liberty to Oakland on March 18 in an anti-war march. The rally marked the third anniversary of the war in Iraq.

Under the leadership of the Thomas Merton Center’s anti-war committee, Pittsburghers joined 7000 anti-war protesters in Chicago, 1000 in Times Square, and thousands more across the country. More than 300 third-anniversary events were planned nationwide, according to a press release from the Thomas Merton Center.

The protesters’ disdain was in stark contrast to the careful optimism that President Bush displayed in his March 19 anniversary speech. President Bush stressed the success of American troops in dissolving Saddam Hussein’s regime and instituting democratic elections in Iraq. He conjectured that soon Iraqis would be in control of more than half of their country, according to a March 21 New York Times article.

“There’s no excuse for invading a country and killing innocent civilians, and there’s no excuse for imposing Western ideas on a Middle Eastern country,” said Colby Tarnauskas, a senior biological sciences major and intern on the Thomas Merton Center’s anti-war committee.

“They’re starting to call it ‘the long war’ for a reason,” Tarnauskas said.

A non-partisan disdain for the nature of the war itself was also evident at the rally.

“This is a call to end the war that goes beyond Bush,” said David Meieran of the Thomas Merton Center’s anti-war committee. “It includes Democrats, Republicans, and troops. This is a global call to end the war.”

Meieran believed nationwide trends of declining support for the war were reflected in the Pittsburgh area as well.

“We believe that Pittsburgh is overwhelmingly against the war,” he said. “People now realize this war is wrong and they need to express their disapproval, and Congressional reps for this area are against the war.”

Jim Kleissler, director of the Thomas Merton Center, added that the city was “sympathetic” to protesters.

“A lot of people are realizing that they can change their minds,” Tarnauskas said.

Kleissler described the protest as a “good peaceful march” with a “good turnout.”

However, he felt that police presence during the march was domineering. “[The police] overreacted to the protest in terms of their preparations,” he said. “It would be good for them and the city to not look so heavy-handed.”

Meieran added that it was disconcerting that the police surveillance was as large as it was, calling it “completely unnecessary.” He reported a “display of 60 heavily-armed riot troops” at the Oakland recruiting station, the march’s final destination.

Pittsburgh police denied the accusation.

“From our standpoint, we were adequately prepared based on the size and scope of the event,” said Tammy Ewin, a Pittsburgh police spokesperson. “We are responsible for ensuring the safety of the protesters, businesses, residents, and officers.”

She stressed that there was no surveillance of protesters by the Pittsburgh police.

Carnegie Mellon Campus Police lieutenant John Race added that the police had predicted a turnout of 5000 people, which is why preparations may have looked excessive.

“[The police] were well-prepared, not over-prepared,” he said. “We will never take negative action unless it interferes with the safety of [Carnegie Mellon].”

Both police forces mentioned their effort to not interfere with the protesters’ First Amendment rights. “We didn’t impede on anyone’s right to free speech,” Ewin said.

Race agreed. “I sympathize with their right to protest — people have a right to speak out. I wouldn’t want [the police] telling me what to say all the time,” he said. “Our function is to make sure they don’t get hurt expressing their political views.”

There was one arrest made at the recruiting station.

Otherwise, Ewin reported that no one was hurt and property damages were minimal. “The Thomas Merton Center is pretty mild,” Race said. He reported that many protesters thanked him for the police preparations to ensure their safety. “One protester stopped and shook my hand,” he said.

Among protest participants were high school students, local college students, protesters from outside the region, and representatives from other activist groups in the area, including Code Pink, Pittsburgh Organizing Group, Black Voices for Peace, and several anti-recruitment groups.

The Thomas Merton Center announced that this year’s protest had a “special focus on military recruitment, echoing the burgeoning counter-recruitment movement in Pittsburgh and around the country,” according to the group’s press release.

Kleissler said that college students have been particularly helpful on recruitment issues because it is a concern directly affecting their generation.

“College students have a lot of energy and a lot of time and passion,” he said. “They bring a fresh perspective of their generation that is extremely valuable.”

Dan Papasian, a senior in political science and policy and management, stated that he and several other Carnegie Mellon students worked with the Thomas Merton Center and other activist groups to help organize the event.

College Democrats president Jonathan Mendelson, a senior in social and decision sciences and public policy and management, stated that the group was not involved in the protest but has been an active contributor to projects of the Thomas Merton Center in the past.

Still, Tarnauskas maintains that political apathy abounds on the Carnegie Mellon campus, in an area where there are so many chances to get politically involved.

“We’re a really critical generation,” she said. “We’re a powerful demographic. We are all smart here at CMU and we should use that.”