As a Democratic Socialist on a conservative campus, it is rather difficult to have a multitude of individuals from both sides of the political and ideological spectrum to rally around a particular cause for the prerogatives and freedoms of human beings around the world. However, from September 21st to September 23rd The Young Democratic Socialists chapter at The University of Virginia's College at Wise (UVA-Wise) caused quite a political and social conflagration that had students on both the left and the right demonstrate their support for our moratorium in Iraq project. The UVA-Wise chapter decided that it was extremely requisite to bring forth the current statistics of the Iraq War in a fashion that would be salient, unavoidable, and controversial; that is, we decided to write Iraq War statistics on the sidewalks and buildings on our campus in colors that would be absolutely visible. Although the chalk will eventually wash away, we have left an indelible mark that is ensconced in the brains of the students, faculty, and the community for years to come.
On September 21st we began chalking in front of the largest building on campus, The Slemp Student Center. Fortunately, the date of the Iraq Moratorium Project was impeccably scheduled for our chapter; on the weekend of homecoming for our institution. We knew that this would provide us with the extraordinary opportunity to not only affect the students currently enrolled at UVA-Wise, but it would also affect the alumni as well. YDS members such as Neil Kirchner, Sarah McDonald, Courtney Hammon, and Kemper Edwards were disseminated and chalked up areas that were conspicuous such as the library, the social science building of Smiddy Hall, the humanities building of Zehmer and Darden, and the natural science building. I took it upon myself to write the slogan, “BOOKS NOT BOMBS” next to the statue of Thomas Jefferson. Our impact was immediately felt for students and parents that were traversing the campus abruptly stopped to read the statistics such as: “22 million four year scholarship are spent in Iraq,” “Over 1 million Iraqi civilians have died” and “Approximately 4,000 U.S. troops have been killed thus far.” To top it off, next to every statistic we wrote, “UVA-Wise Young Democratic Socialists.” Haplessly, we did not possess clairvoyance for we were not able to predict the controversy and the actions that were ahead.
After we finished chalking in front of the residence halls on campus, we gathered for a debriefing and scheduled a celebratory event. Around the time of 7:00 p.m. on Friday, however, I received a phone call from one of my friends informing me to look outside of my window. When I looked outside, I observed three students pouring water over the statistics. Immediately, I ran outside to confront the perpetrators as they were fleeing the scene. As I pursued them, I shouted, “What’s up with that? Can we not talk about this?” As soon as I uttered those inquiries, UVA-Wise Campus Police came out of my residence hall. The female officer inquisitively stated, “What is going on?” As I was about to provide a rejoinder to her inquiry, she quickly discovered what had occurred. She stopped the three students and as I began to follow her she emphatically informed me to go to my room. The three perpetrators deemed our organization and our actions “unpatriotic” and “un-American” and that we are “aiding the terrorists with our propaganda.” Yet, the officer informed the perpetrators that we had the right–being a Student Government approved organization–to engage in our actions. Fortunately, this is one instance in which the law was unequivocally on our side. Nevertheless, this did not stop the conservative student body from expressing their abhorrence to our actions through actions of their own.
While resting for the following day, I received a phone call at 2:00 a.m. on Saturday morning as well as a myriad of text messages informing me that an exponential group of students decided to go to our “friendly” neighborhood Wal-Mart and purchase gallons of water to erase the statistics we placed in front of their residence hall. I woke up to discover that not only did they erase the statistics, they took it upon themselves to supplant our statistics with messages of “God Bless America,” “God Bless Our Troops,” and “GOP ’10.” Infuriated, I decided that I would take care of the matter later during the day. Surprisingly, a group of students that are not affiliated with UVA-Wise YDS or any progressive organization on campus decided to place the statistics that we initially wrote back on the sidewalks. They informed us that while they are not Socialists themselves, they completely supported us in our effort to bring awareness about this egregious and reprehensible war. We generously and profusely thanked them for their actions and we parted ways.
As the days progressed, we received congratulatory comments from different members of the faculty and student body. There were some that wanted us to paint an ostensible and specious picture of the Iraq War by writing, “God Bless Our Troops.” We intensely and adroitly quipped that we support our troops not being placed into a precarious situation for an indefinite amount of time. Furthermore, we informed our dissenters that it is not a matter of us not supporting our troops, rather, it is a matter of us recognizing that our presence in that region is futile and based on westward flow of oil while placing our government in a “strategic” political position to enforce their onerous and odious laws on the governments and the peoples of that region. We have caused such a stir on this campus that it became the topic of discussion in some of the Freshmen Seminar courses.
UVA-Wise YDS wanted to bring forth some form of political and pragmatic cognizance to the student body about the Iraq War. We are currently planning an Iraq War debate with the Young Democrats and the College Republicans on our campus. We will make it a point to mention that we want a complete moratorium on all Middle Eastern military actions as well as the complete removal of all military personnel in that region; that is, no residual forces. Hopefully, our actions will transcend the college community and demonstrate that YDS is an organization that is about ending the Iraq War through pragmatic and potent action.
Emahunn Raheem Ali Campbell is the YDS Anti-Racist Coordinator and a YDS Chapter Leader at UVA-Wise