Students protest U.S. occupation in Iraq

Sophomore in FAA Alison Maguire, left, pickets during a protest against the war in Iraq as Thomas Ayala, member of Vets Against the Iraq War, is interviewed in front of the Illini Union Thursday morning March 15th 2007. ME Online

By Kathleen Foody

The voices of protesters chanting “Hey Congress, what’re you for if you can’t stop this f—ing war,” echoed across the Quad and down Green Street Thursday afternoon as University students and community members gathered to call for an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

The protesters gathered on the Quad at 11 a.m. and then marched down the south side of Green Street, cheering and carrying signs, before returning to the Quad for a rally.

Laurie Nobilette, junior in LAS, marched and carried a sign encouraging pedestrians and drivers to “Read Between the Pipelines.” She said she picked it up from a stack available to protesters.

“People don’t know the kinds of things the administration is doing in Iraq in terms of insuring they have a tapped pipeline for cheap oil,” she said. “It’s not reported in the mainstream media.”

Representatives from several community groups and student organizations, including Iraq Veterans Against the War, spoke at the rally.

Dressed in brown corduroy pants and an army camouflage jacket and hat, graduate student Thomas Ayala addressed the crowd of about 50 people.

Ayala served in the Army and was stationed in Afghanistan for about a year with an infantry unit in 2005 and 2006. But the war in Iraq is unjust and illegal, he said.

“I’m not a pacifist,” Ayala said. “Even though I’m against the Iraq war I believe that the Afghanistan war was justified in the beginning. But now we have our troops just roaming around the country doing nothing but getting hit by snipers and by roadside bombs.”

The crowd repeatedly cheered as Ayala and the other speakers stepped up to a microphone surrounded by photos of U.S. soldiers and Iraqis killed or injured as a result of the war.

“War is dirty and sweaty and bloody and nauseating and confusing and traumatic,” he said. “It’s not for pampered politicians.”

Speakers addressed the recent investigations into conditions at veterans’ hospitals, the Israeli occupation of Palestine and ending racism, as well as demanding the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Nathan Peld, junior in Engineering, said he thought the obscenities the protestors used at times went a little far.

Julia Neville, senior in LAS, disagreed. “It’s good they have different speakers and music,” she said. “I guess I got a better impression than him.”

The rally was co-sponsored by 15 community and student groups, including the Campus Greens, College Democrats and local band “The Living Blue,” according to a press release issued before the protest.

Stephen Ucherek, a member of “The Living Blue,” performed two solo songs at the rally including one he wrote in memory of a friend, Sgt. Shawna Morrison, who was killed during her service in Iraq.

“Things like this give you hope,” he said. “You just have to continue to get out and use your voice, or whatever else you have, to combat this war peacefully.”