In light of the 11th anniversary of the American invasion of Afghanistan that took place on Sunday, the Students for a Democratic Society led an action protesting U.S. foreign policy on Monday on the USF campus in Tampa.
The group consisted of about 12 students, who started the demonstration at Cooper Hall addressing other students with megaphones and chants along the lines of “drop tuition, not bombs” and the protest stand-by of “no justice, no peace.”
Banners and megaphones attracted a somewhat receptive audience outside of the hall as students tentatively gathered around to hear the SDS members’ message of opposition.
The speakers focused mainly on U.S. policy actions, and as to be expected called for the end of the Afghanistan war and other U.S. military involvements. There was also a focus on the growing practice of drone warfare.
There was also a recurring theme of what the group sees as the government’s misplaced values in terms of funding. Those present bemoaned the fact that education funding has been subject to cuts nationwide as well as rising tuition rates at state-schools while the defense budget has not only stayed stable but increased.
Later in the protest SDS members marched through campus to the C.W. Bill Young building, both in response to the Republican congressman’s record in terms of foreign policy and defense as well as it’s function as the headquarters of the university’s ROTC program (Young recently called for an end to the war in Afghanistan).The march itself was rather small in scale considering that there were very few bystanders present on the route, though the few that were seemed sympathetic to the cause.
Matthew Hastings, 21, is a senior at USF and a member of the Students for a Democratic Society. He feels that the Young building represented some of the issues he has with the current state of U.S. military and foreign policy. Hastings feels that the anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan is a milestone event, in his eyes it was the start of the wars and military actions that have defined U.S. foreign policy for the last decade.
“We’ve simply become mired in more conflicts outside of Afghanistan. It was essentially a starting point and a justification to get involved. First you saw Iraq, then you saw Libya, now with the increase of drone strikes, that’s expanded our ability because we don’t have to use as many troops.”
The increased use of drones to Hastings is a dangerous sign of how warfare has changed, and that the “collateral damage” of bystanders lost in drone strikes is brushed over.
“We have these drones that can go into Yemen and Somalia and supposedly target militants. We know that the true fact of the matter is that they have a two percent hit rate on who they’re actually trying to kill…they present it in the name of “Oh we don’t have to use our own troops, we don’t have to have these troops dying.” It takes into no consideration about who is dying.”
One of the main focuses of the event was on decreased spending on education as well as a depressed job market for young people, and Hastings feels that the military recruiting is targeting students to serve in a cause that doesn't benefit young Americans.
“This is the ROTC building as well, it’s kind of a symbol of how we’re sending these young men and women who may be getting into the military because they’re low income and feel they have no other option…..we want to say to these people who are considering it, it’s not a war for us it’s a war for the government’s interests.”
Michel Playzas, a Colombian born student who attends USF, followed the SDS from the protest’s starting place to it’s end point at the ROTC building. Playzas was interested in the message but said he had questions about whether or not the protest would be anti-military. He said that while he’s opposed to the wars, as a member of a military family he doesn't think ROTC members and servicemen should be targeted.
“When I heard they were coming to the ROTC building I was concerned that they were going to come over here and just spout out anti-military (rhetoric). But now that I’m here I’m seeing that that’s not their purpose.”
Playzas is a little wary of these kind of events. While he says he supports the messages of actions such as what took place Monday and Occupy protests, he says there’s the issue of not creating any kind of “tangible” action.
“I feel that we need to create these messages, but do it in a democratic way, from the bottom up. We need to start electing leaders that agree with our stances at the local level and go up from there. Because as much as you scream 'no more wars' it’s not going to help at all.”
Some ROTC members stood around the event and were curious as to what was happening. However they didn't express any kind of opinion on the matter and declined to comment to the news outlets present.
As the event wrapped up at the Young building class let out, though this outpouring was less interested in the event and appeared to be more concerned with getting to their next course, most likely due to it being mid-term season on the North Tampa campus.