War protests return on smaller scale

Emily Kaiser

Just 33 years ago, helicopters hovered over Northrop Mall while police blasted Vietnam War protesters with tear gas, recalls Marv Davidov.

“I remember people were standing on the two bridges going over Washington Avenue as a big contingent of police came down the street towards them,” said Davidov, a former University professor and local protester for more than 50 years.

Davidov, currently an adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas, said he believes the nationwide student protests helped end the war.

Today high school and college students will participate in a national walkout to protest the Iraq war in hopes of having a similar voice of opposition.

Despite current protests and activism against the war, the University campus is not hosting the massive protests seen during Vietnam. Current protests boast 1,000 attendees, while news reports during Vietnam reported 10,000 to 15,000 protesters.

By the end of the 1960s, campuses across the nation were experiencing growing student protests, and the Midwest was one of the last areas to catch on, Davidov said.

Local newspapers reported on area protests daily, many of which were peaceful, he said.

In May 1972, when police worried that protesters would damage campus buildings, police agencies and the National Guard arrived on campus to protect the area and control the people.

Lee North, a University police officer from 1969 to 1998, said it was clear buildings were at risk during the protests.

“They would have burned down Morrill Hall and the armory. I have no qualms about it,” he said.

Davidov said the force of the police and the National Guard riled student protesters who were already upset.

“This was happening throughout the United States and finally it came here with real police brutality, and students stood up to the cops in very noble and courageous ways,” he said.

The resulting clashes between officers and students resulted in increased activism, Davidov said.

“The police panicked unnecessarily in my view and contributed to building the demonstrations,” he said.

During the protest, students and police were on edge, North said.

“It was us against them,” he said.

North said he began working for the University Police Department in 1969 and often worked 12-hour shifts standing inside campus buildings to prevent protesting students from entering them.

“It was not a friendly place to be a cop, and students didn’t think highly of the police,” he said. “Police were part of the problem because they were indirectly enforcing the government’s position.”

During the 12 days of major protests, students created a barricade across Washington Avenue with items from the campus such as snow fences and bike racks. Approximately 200 students blocked rush-hour traffic on Interstate 94, North said.

Protests today

Current anti-war protests do not compare in size to the Vietnam protests, North said, because of the smaller U.S. death toll and increased apathy among citizens.

North said he watched campus protests drop off after the war ended.

“Once Vietnam was over with and that group of students graduated, there really weren’t any more issues,” he said.

Students became more concerned with localized issues such as tuition costs and class sizes, North said.

One of the primary differences between Vietnam and Iraq is the lack of a draft, said sociology professor Ron Aminzade.

Despite the lack of protesters in numbers, many anti-war activists said the opposition to the war is growing and will be prevalent during the walkout today.

“I think while the draft was a pretty stark, in-your-face example of how young people were affected, they are still affected today in different ways,” said Ty Moore, an organizer with Socialist Alternative, which helped organize the walkout.

Moore said the group often relates the money spent on the war to student issues to make it more personal.

“If we took the $360 billion that’s been spent, that could have paid for full scholarships for 8 million people in this country,” he said.

Pre-nursing student and Socialist Alternative officer Katie Quarles said there was a larger anti-war movement before the Iraq war compared with the anti-war movements before Vietnam.

“It’s hard to envision protests like Vietnam now, but that could change quickly because the mood is changing,” she said.

The high school walkout today will be a major component of the protest because students have the opportunity to have a voice, Quarles said.

Approximately 1,000 high school students pledged to walk out at noon today, despite school threats to fail them for missed tests and assignments.

Minneapolis Southwest High School Principal William Smith said the school is facing many problems because of its policies and the values of the students’ families.

Smith said any absence will not be excused according to district policy, but families have their own obligations according to their beliefs.

“Unfortunately we are stuck in the middle of something we didn’t cause at all,” he said. “We are not in a political position to support the war, but we are going to take the heat.”