Iraq conference educates anti-war effort

Keynote speaker and activist Sami Rasouli spoke of his return to Iraq to build peace.

Yelena Kibasova

On Saturday, about 125 students and community members gathered at Carlson School of Management to listen to activist speakers, watch a spoken word poetry performer and hold discussions on the Iraq war.

The student organization Anti-War Organizing League co-sponsored the Iraq Conference, which aimed to teach students about the ongoing war.

“We wanted to create a space for people who do oppose the war to share information and to learn more about the current situation,” said Anh Pham, a coordinator of the event and a University staff member.

She said polls constantly are showing growing opposition to the Iraq war.

Sami Rasouli, an Iraqi American peace activist and founder of the Muslim Peacemaker Team in Iraq, was the event’s keynote speaker.

“We’re very excited about (Rasouli) and wanted to hear from him firsthand about what his experiences are having been here and then going back,” Pham said.

Rasouli, who went back to Iraq to help fight for peace, said U.S. foreign policy is failing. He blamed the occupation for the mess in Iraq.

“We should just come back, because we are not helping,” Rasouli said. “We’re losing troops, people in Iraq are angry about our policies and about our military presence in Iraq (and) we are perceived as enemies.”

Students and community members who attended the events then chose from a list of workshops to attend for the duration of the event.

“Every single one of the workshops is one that appeals to me,” said Charles Underwood, a St. Paul teacher who attended the event. “My frustration is that I can’t attend them all.”

Arthur Henson, author of “The War Against Iraq: A Handbook for Anti-imperialists” and Dave Bicking, a member of the Anti-War Committee and an activist since the 1960s, had a workshop that focused on history and politics and what is behind the conflict in Iraq.

Four Minnesota students, including Ashley Dresser, a first-year global studies student, held a workshop discussing anti-war organizing on college campuses.

Dresser said young activists continuously face challenges such as stereotypes and feeling powerless.

“(The conference) was a way for me to talk about the different challenges that we have to face and emphasize the fact that (we) are building our own movement,” she said.

Attendees browsed literature tables outside the main conference room and had the opportunity to donate to the anti-war cause by buying visual art created by Iraqi artists.

Amelia Smith, a first-year University student and a coordinator of the conference, was hoping to see more students attend the conference.

“Hopefully what the students who are here have learned in this conference, they’ll take to their friends,” she said.

Among the crowd of community members, some students came with notepad and pen in hand to listen to the speakers.

“I was just interested in learning more about this because we don’t really get a lot of information from news sources because everything’s a little more biased,” said Caleb Gudmundson, a German studies sophomore.

Ty Moore, who attended the conference, said students should pay more attention because the war affects their tuition and other social services.

“It’s an important issue for young people in general and I hope that University students Ö will step up even further in their opposition of the war,” he said.

The event fostered many veteran activists.

Underwood said he has indirectly experienced wars, but believes the Iraq war is one of the most frightening and bloody.

“The whole question of Iraq is tied to how everybody in the world is going to live,” he said.

This is the first year that the Anti-War Organizing League and the Anti-War Committee sponsor the event.