Tampa Bay area college students march for peace on anniversary of invasion of Afghanistan

10/08/12 Janelle Irwin
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The war in Afghanistan is now in its twelfth year and some students in the Tampa Bay area have had enough. Ten members of Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, rallied at USF Tampa today to speak out against the continued occupation of Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern countries. Matthew Hastings said the military spending can be better used to fund public education.

“Well, if we’re spending trillions of dollars to maintain a military that is fighting overseas, we’re not going to have $1 trillion to spend on education for the people of this country. We’re not going to have money to spend on healthcare and jobs. So, it should be no surprise to students that we see these tuition hikes and budget cuts to our schools because the money’s not there, it’s going to fight a war for over a decade.”

But it’s not just reigning in wasted funding. Hastings was only ten years old when the war in Afghanistan started in 2001. He said the ongoing occupation of other countries is turning American youth into a bunch of bullies.

“Our policy, implicitly, is to go overseas and provide our own interests and so that’s going to reflect on, not only international culture, but our culture here is going to be a culture of domination over the oppressed and, you know, our interests are the best interests for the world.”

Hillsborough Community College student Walt Byars agreed with the notion that military command is trying to strong arm the rest of the world into doing things the “American” way.

“The end game of U.S. success is to project its power throughout the world in order to enforce economic policies that murder millions of people every year.”

Members of the group yelled out staggering statistics about civilian deaths in occupied countries, U.S. soldier causalities and rampant Post Traumatic Stress and suicide cases among returning soldiers. Byars said people in the U.S. military would still have plenty of ways to make a living without the armed forces and be better off for it.

“If we build up a movement that’s strong enough to end the war and really resist the American ruling classes and imperialism, that movement’s going to be strong enough to shift resources from military to employ people in productive venues that improve society.”

The group of only 10 student activists drew a crowd at USF Tampa’s Cooper Hall as they took turns shouting war statistics into a bullhorn. But after, they marched – without the onlookers – to the C.W. Bill Young ROTC building across campus. SDS’s Hastings was approached by another student as they began to march.

“What do the ROTC people in that building who are students just as yourself, how are they funding a war you and me are against?”

The student who approached them was Michel Playzas, a freshman at USF. Playzas was born in Columbia and said he’s seen the effects of both war and bad government.

“I was concerned it was just going to be an anti-military rally which I don’t agree with because I come from a military family and I personally know, as they say, the pain those families go through. So, I wanted to make sure that instead of just going against the military that they were going against what’s happening with our current government.”

By the time the group reached the ROTC building Playzas was asking how he could get involved with the group. He began nodding in agreement as SDS member Danielle Leppo talked about the building’s namesake – U.S. Congress member Bill Young. Leppo cited a recent report that Young is speaking out against the war in Afghanistan after he received several letters from a deployed soldier who was later killed in action. Leppo said Young is doing too little, too late.

“He claims on his website that he supports these programs and these initiatives that his voting record actually is completely opposite of what his website is saying. I just find it a little suspicious that considering we have the elections coming up pretty shortly, it just seems a little convenient that all of a sudden he’s sort of changing his position I think to maybe soften his image – maybe he wants to appear more empathetic, but I think that most people aren’t really going to fall for that.”

The anti-war efforts by the activist group are non-partisan. SDS’s Hastings claims the Obama administration has done less to stop American-led violence in other countries than the two-term Bush administration. He said people need to get involved in their schools and communities to draw attention to what’s happening overseas because electing a president won’t necessarily change anything.

“So, whether you see George Bush or Barack Obama – we can certainly draw differences between these two people, but when it comes to imperialism and U.S. domination, they have the same attitude and they have the same mentality to keep the U.S power structure alive and maintain our economic interests all over the world.”

Other SDS groups are holding similar rallies at colleges and universities across the country. The one-year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan was yesterday. The U.S. began bombing Afghanistan on October 7th, 2001 after the September 11th attacks. Troops are set to be withdrawn from the country in 2014.

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