UCSB Students Protest War, Block Highway 217

Ignoring the restrictions imposed by the mere geometry of UCSB’s curbs and sidewalks, students marching today in protest of the University of California’s involvement with military efforts stepped across the newly installed roundabout at the campus’s east entrance and walked down Highway 217 toward a cluster of California Highway Patrol vehicles. The crowd—nearly one thousand, according to event planners, though more conservative estimates place the number closer to 500—had convened initially in Isla Vista at Pardall Road, in front of a tunnel underpass through which many UCSB students ride their bikes to get to class. Part of the protest included a strike that discouraged students from attending class in symbolism of a decisive break from “business as usual.” Thus, the spot was integral for the protestors to hail passers-by to drop their daily activities in favor of joining the rally. However, the class walkout—which some students disobeyed, even if they purported to support the protest—paled in comparison to the literal walk down the principal highway leading into campus, which stopped traffic.

As UC Police Department officers redirected cars trying to exit campus, the mob of protestors stood before the CHP, who told students not to step past their line of cars. The presence of the officers prevented the protest from reaching the 101, which some in the crowd alleged was their plan, but the barricade also resulted in an hour-long confrontation between the two entities. Despite the size of the student protest group and the riot gear CHP officers sported, the worst of the interaction was limited to two arrests. Former UCSB student Jesse Carrieri was taken into custody for disobeying a peace officer, as was a women’s studies department professor, Mireille Miller-Young.

Protestors sat on the pavement of Highway 217 and listened to speakers address the group with words of encouragement, news of other opportunities for political activism and the like. “I wasn’t planning on coming today. I was on the bus,” said Dos Pueblos High School student Adam Rothman, referencing a public transit vehicle trying protests%20110.jpgthat had been completely stopped from circling the roundabout when the march halted it. The crowd met this identification with cheers. Other speakers spoke about the protest being sadly uncharacteristic of the crop of young adults. “Our generation is the one that will be remembered for iPods and ignorance,” said a speaker. “We’re the generation that is willing to get arrested for public intoxication on the weekend on [Del Playa Drive] and not in a protest for civil disobedience.” Jeronimo Saldana, a member of UCSB’s Associated Students Legislative Council who took part in the protest, praised the crowd for coming as far as they had. “We shut down the university as of now. We’re showing our solidarity,” he said. “This is beautiful. Let’s keep this going on.”

Walking Before Running and Gathering Before Marching

Indeed, the spirit of the afternoon carried on for hours, especially for the handful of organizers that arrived at the initial Pardall Road location at 7 a.m. Organizers described the event as one that continually grew in energy and number as the day wore on. “It’s amazing to be here and look at all the people who showed up,” said Andrew Culp, a research and advocacy associate at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. “And it’s had this ripple effect,” he said, noting that UCSB’s protest seems to have inspired similar ones at 27 other universities throughout the nation, including Columbia, UCLA, UC Davis and Berkeley. “The fact that this all happened so organically speaks to how powerful this is,” said junior film studies and global studies major Ellen McClure of the way UCSB’s recognition of the worldwide February 15, 2003 protests—in which an estimated six to ten million people protested the United States’ planned invasion of Iraq—had apparently given rise to additional activism beyond Santa Barbara.

One of the speakers at the Pardall Road stage of the protest identified himself as “Yousef B.” and explained that college students had a responsibility to protest the injustices suffered overseas protests%20048.jpgbecause people in Iraq were not all that different from Americans. “If you’ve never seen an Iraqi, then right here—I am a person from Iraq and I look like you,” he said after addressing the crowd with the traditional Muslim greeting of peace. The speaker continued to say that unlike American students, however, those studying at colleges in Iraq spend an approximate amount of time working for their degrees but “have no hope,” as the future of their country is so uncertain.

Darwin BondGraham, a second year sociology grad student at UCSB, said the protest was important because, in his opinion, many students need an extra nudge to become agents of political change. “A lot of students are democrats in the way Dianne Feinstein is a democrat and [voted for the war] or Hillary Clinton is and served on the board of directors for Walmart… We’re trying to get people radicalized.” BondGraham, who appeared to be a de facto leader for the organizers, who consciously rejected electing any sort of formal boss, said he would like today’s protest to be a first step in changing UCSB’s overall political climate into one of activity instead of apathy.

Questioning Authority

Indeed, protests%20129.jpglittle apathy was present among the protestors for the duration of today’s events. Even though the crowd eventually relented and marched back onto campus, it then focused its energies on Cheadle Hall, which houses many of the university’s administrative officials. Protestors demanded to speak with Chancellor Henry Yang and have him answer their charges that the UC system is furthering war efforts, for example, by pushing its engineering researchers to work on weapons.

After much ruckus, Vice Chancellor Michael Young emerged and explained that although Chancellor Yang was not in the office, he would relay the message. Young said that he endorsed any citizen’s right to protest. “All people should have the right to speak and do so with dignity and respect,” he said. Shouts from the crowd demanded for administration to respond to other concerns, as well—among them, “What about nuclear weapons?”, “Yang has a cell phone!” and “What about our brothers in jail?” Responding to the last of these, Young responded that he’d heard that the two arrested protestors had been released. And with assurances from Young that the university would work with students to help understand each other’s goals, the crowd dispersed.

“The more attention they can get, the better,” said UCSB student Peter Borris, who watched the protest at Cheadle Hall. “I was just in the army and the can call me back anytime, so I’m all for [the protest]. Amberjae Freeman, a global studies graduate student, said she was pleased to see such a large group protesting—particularly one that included some of her students—though she said she was somewhat troubled by the relatively fewer number of minority students involved, especially given the number of student organizations that traditionally support liberal causes. “The absence of black and Latino [protestors] is noticeable to me in particular,” she said.

One for the Team

Sergeant Dave protests%20094.jpgRobertson, acting as a spokesperson for the CHP, said after the protest that the retreat from Highway 217 happened as a result of an agreement between police and the marchers. “We can’t allow them to block access to campus, and the leaders of the group agreed,” he said. Robertson, who admitted that he had been at UCSB when student protests burned down Isla Vista’s Bank of America building, also said he felt the decision to march down the highway was poorly planned and could have easily resulted in a less peaceful resolution than the one that occurred. “Their idea is good, but their method is bad,” he said.

Robertson also said that he understood that the student arrested, Jesse Carrieri, had been taken into custody for having brandished a starter pistol. Later investigation, however, revealed that the weapon in question had actually been a black water gun and that Carrieri’s arrest happened as a result of his refusal to obey a police officer’s orders to step away from the CHP’s makeshift barricade.

Carrieri, however, said he was not informed of his reason for arrest until well after he had been taken into police custody. Furthermore, he said the arrest stemmed from an officer’s misunderstanding his curiosity into the protest’s legal standing. “I went to an officer behind the barricade to ask a question, and he tells me ‘Get back.’ I was trying to discern what law we were breaking by being there—what we would be arrested for,” Carrieri said. “It seemed totally ludicrous and pointless… I was questioning authority, but literally, not rhetorically,” he said. “I was being polite, but the second I crossed the line, so to speak, I become a number to them. What was I in violation of? Questioning authority.”

Released about five hours after his arrest—and hours after Young announced to the crowd that both arrested individuals had been let go—Carrieri said he was surprised to see Chancellor Yang, who offered to drive him from Santa Barbara County Jail back to Isla Vista. For that unexpected presence, Carrieri said he was thankful. “His being there helped expedite our release. They were saying I might be in your cell over night,” he said.

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