Students, locals protest war in Iraq

University High student Shara Esbenshade hands flyers to motorists stopped at the intersection of Neil St and Main St in downtown Champaign Saturday January 27, 2007. The protest of about 60 people was organized by Esbenshade to support a larger nationwid Joseph Lamberson

By Kathleen Foody

University student Kevin Swanson, freshman in Engineering, carried a sign with a photograph of a soldier killed in Iraq during a protest on Saturday in downtown Champaign.

The protest was coupled with a similar protest in Washington D.C. to demonstrate dissatisfaction with an increase in troops in Iraq.

Swanson said the November election showed President Bush that the American people are unhappy.

“Obviously, he’s not listening,” Swanson said.

University student Claire Cannon, freshman in LAS, attended the protest with Swanson.

Cannon said they planned to go to a demonstration in St. Louis, but opted to stay closer to home when they heard of the Champaign demonstration.

“3,000 people have already died in vain,” she said. “This war just feels unwinnable.”

Residents of Champaign, Urbana and other nearby cities attended the protest and made up the majority of the protesters.

“We have to let the people in power know that this war is not being fought in our name,” said Larry Trippied, a University alumnus and resident of Monticello, Ill. “Each one of us has to do something. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. were just individual people too.”

Demonstrators began gathering around 2 p.m., carrying posters and flags with various slogans and photographs. Cars traveling past them honked in support, resulting in cheers from the demonstrators.

Martha Wilkinson, a Champaign resident, carried a sign encouraging motorists to honk and show their support.

Wilkinson said she expressed her feelings when she voted in November, referring to the Democrats gaining the majority in both the House and Senate.

“I urge people to register (to vote) if they aren’t already,” she said. “The voting booth is where our voices count.”

Ron Hutchison, a Champaign resident, volunteered to join the U.S. Marines at 17 and was stationed in the Persian Gulf in 1958 during Lebanon’s Civil War, but Saturday he stood with fellow demonstrators in opposition to the war in Iraq.

“I say no to wars of aggression,” Hutchison said.

The Champaign protest was organized by two high school members of the Anti-War Anti-Racism Effort, a local organization that encourages members to work together for peace and justice, according to its Web site.

Cody Bralts, a 14-year-old student at Urbana High School, and Shara Esbenshade, a 16-year-old student at University High School, said they planned the protest in two weeks to express their belief that the surge in troops will only cause more damage to Iraq.

Esbenshade said she was pleased with the turnout, despite the weather.

“It makes us that much more impressive,” she said.

Bralts said the troop surge will likely cause more damage to Iraq and was glad to provide an outlet for people who could not attend the demonstration in Washington D.C. to express their opinions.

Urbana resident Cinda Pippenger said she protested in Champaign during the civil rights movement and said she wished the same level of commitment was still shown.

“Students don’t seem to protest and get upset like we did in the ’60s,” she said. “But it is so good to see this many young people out here today.”