Operation Iraqi Freedom organizes against war

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Cloistered away in Wilson 102 every Wednesday night at 10 p.m., a dozen students aspire to help end a war. They are the active members of Operation Iraqi Freedom, a peace group named to simultaneously parody the U.S. military’s moniker for the Iraq war and express members’ hopes for an independent and secure Iraq.

On Oct. 11, OIF screened “The Ground Truth,” a documentary film that features interviews with soldiers about their experiences during and after service in Iraq. Directly following the movie, students listened to a panel that included Jacque Amoureux GS, a member of Military Families Speak Out whose brother is currently serving in the army. Upwards of 50 people attended the event, according to Will Lambek ’09, a member of the organization since last year.

“What we want to do is to educate and mobilize and politicize the campus about and around the Iraq war, and we want to see an end to the occupation,” Lambek told The Herald. “People in the group have varying specific ideas about how that should be achieved.”

One of the group’s top priorities is to spread awareness of the war, said Will Pasley ’07. “We’re right in the planning stages of what we’re going to do this year,” he said.

According to Rick Ahl ’09, the group plans to engage in “counter-recruiting,” which involves reaching out to youths and dispersing information about the drawbacks of military service and alleged dishonesty in the military recruiting process.

Pasley criticized military tuition subsidies as a false promise. “Statistically, (soldiers) don’t get these benefits,” Pasley said. “There’s some really horrifying figures about how very few enlistees actually get to go to college,” he added.

Counter-recruiting has its roots in Quaker organizations such as the American Friends Service Committee. OIF members expressed enthusiasm about being able to join in on the efforts. “You’re getting in the way of the military prosecuting its war by depriving them of the primary resource it needs,” Lambek said.

The group has recently collaborated with the AFSC. On Sept. 25, in a protest organized by the AFSC, some members of OIF presented Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., with a pledge to bring American troops home from Iraq and refused to leave his office until he signed it. Instead of leaving his office, the students were escorted out by police and arrested for trespassing.

OIF formed last fall under the direction of Liz Sperber ’06. Disappointed by the lack of student activism regarding the Iraq war, Sperber invited anti-war activist Medea Benjamin to come speak at Brown in September 2005. Around the same time, Sperber posted flyers about a meeting for anti-war students. The meeting was well attended and a formal club materialized soon after, Ahl said.

The group does not have a formal leadership structure to resolve disputes. Instead, OIF operates by consensus. “We’re a non-hierarchical organization and I think that matters a lot,” Lambek said. “Groups run more smoothly when people are on an equal footing and when people can take initiatives and tackle things themselves.”

The group’s membership is difficult to determine. Though there are about 100 people on OIF’s listserv, only about 20 show up to meetings, according to Ahl.

“I think students are generally pretty aware about the war. I don’t think they know much about us because we’re a relatively new group,” Pasley said.

The members of OIF are not politically monolithic. While they share hopes for a withdrawal of troops, they disagree about when the U.S. military should withdraw. There is also a more fundamental, through not antagonistic, disagreement within the group over whether and when war is justifiable, according to Ahl.

Accordingly, OIF has not endorsed specific political candidates in the 2006 elections. “We’re a political group but we’re not, for instance, a Democratic group, we’re not a Green Party group. We encourage people to choose candidates who are against the war, but not for a specific political party,” Ahl said.

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