Two rallies representing opposite sides of the debate over bringing the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps back to Brown took place peacefully side by side on the Main Green Friday. Though tensions at times ran high, rally participants managed to find common ground in their arguments.
The Coalition Against Special Privileges for ROTC organized the anti-ROTC protest to provide “a physical manifestation of opposition to ROTC as the semester is coming to a close,” said Alex Dean ’14, a coalition leader. The anti-ROTC rally attracted about 35 student and faculty protesters to the steps of Faunce House. In response to the coalition’s planned rally, the Brown Republicans organized a pro-ROTC “Support Our Troops” protest to be held at the same time in the same place. About 15 students took part in the pro-ROTC rally.
At one point, ROTC opponents erupted into a chant of “Support our troops! Bring them home!” Recognizing mutual values, ROTC supporters responded with a chant of “We agree!” After the rallies ended, students from both sides mingled in small groups debating each other.
“Maybe they have more in common than they think,” bystander Harry Mickalide ’12 said about the two rallies.
But the atmosphere was not always so civil.
Each group tried to drown out the other’s speeches with music and chants. After the anti-ROTC rally’s grand finale, which involved marching into University Hall and presenting the case against ROTC to President Ruth Simmons’ assistant, ROTC opponents surrounded the Brown Republicans and chanted loudly before disbanding.
“The rally went really well,” said Jonathan Leibovic ’12, a coalition supporter. “We beat the pro-ROTC folks into retreat. It was great.”
Coalition members built their protest around the fact that the ROTC program does not allow transgender students to participate in its military training and scholarship program.
Coalition supporters bore signs saying, “Support trans rights!” and carried rainbow flags.
“The idea that the University would even consider allowing a discriminatory group on campus is insulting,” Gabriel Schwartz ’13 said in an address to protesters.
“Funk ROTC” was the name of an ROTC protest parade featuring the What Cheer Brigade, a marching band from Providence, that took place later that night around campus.
“Discrimination is not a reason to keep ROTC off campus,” said Terrence George ’13, president of the Brown Republicans and chairman of the College Republican Federation of Rhode Island. “On the whole, the group does more good than bad,” he said.
George, who organized the pro-ROTC rally, pointed out that ROTC provides scholarships for students from underprivileged backgrounds and “makes our military smarter.” He accused the coalition of using “anti-military rhetoric” despite their “support our troops” chant.
“The simple fact that they suggest that bringing ROTC to Brown would make the campus less safe impugns the honor of the military,” he said.
The coalition argues on its website that Brown would be less safe if ROTC were again allowed on campus because of the military’s record of sexual violence. The “culture of sexual violence is pervasive enough to invade the military’s interaction with the civilian world,” according to the site.
Anti-ROTC protesters also argued that allowing ROTC back on campus would provide tacit University support for American military intervention abroad.
“The reason ROTC was expelled from campus in 1969 was because of the catastrophe in Vietnam,” said Steve Rabson, professor emeritus of East Asian studies, veteran and a participant in the anti-ROTC rally. “America hasn’t learned from Vietnam not to continue intervening militarily — the debacles in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq are proof enough of that.”
Other protesters sang anti-war songs and recalled the legacy of Vietnam in speeches and chants.
But despite their conflicting rhetoric, leaders of both groups agree the ROTC debate transcends political boundaries.
“This issue isn’t a partisan issue,” George said. “It’s an American issue that everyone can get behind and support. It’s encouraging to see people getting together behind one issue.”
“For me, this isn’t about anti-war or pro-war, anti-military or pro-military politics,” wrote Chris Gang ’11, a coalition member and former Herald executive editor, in a press release. “It’s a question of what Brown, as a community, values.”
The Committee on ROTC is expected to present more findings to the Brown University Community Council Tuesday.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed the words, “But since it’s trans students they’re discriminating against, people think it’s more okay. But I say — funk ROTC and support trans rights!” to Gabriel Schwartz ’13. In fact, the words were said by another student. The Herald regrets the error.