A two-day teach-in against an American war presence in the Middle East, held at the University of Utah, got off to a sleepy start Tuesday.
About 150 students turned out for the first of the panel sessions, held in the Union Building Ballroom. Although organizers obviously wanted to emulate the gigantic anti-war actions of the 1960s, there were more differences than similarities.Instead of furious chants against LBJ, some students snoozed on couches just in front of the ballroom. Rather than denunciations punctuated with obscenities, speakers addressed students who sat placidly in rows of folding chairs. Instead of a sea of beards, hair, headbands, beads and pea jackets, most members of the quiet crowd were conservatively dressed and neatly coiffed.
The organizers tried, though.
There was even a propaganda table, with fliers pinned to the red tablecloth, along with a poster that said "No U.S. War in the Middle East!!! NO BLOOD FOR OIL!" Copies of the socialist tabloid, the Militant, were offered. A banner announced the dates of the "No U.S. War TEACH-IN."
Paul Mailhot - the lead speaker - had that same strident, stinging tone in his voice as did so many orators in the late '60s and early '70s. In a phrase that could have been delivered by Dr. Spock in some huge rally, he promised that anti-war demonstrations would "play a role in stopping the march to madness."
But as the actual teach-in began, the rest of the speakers did little to awaken the somnolent students.
Byron Cannon, who teaches a history class with emphasis on the American power-brokerage in the Middle East, droned through a talk that sounded like a classroom lecture, discussing the way U.S. involvement in the region changed with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
The press conference before the teach-in began was more lively. Some of the statements were tougher. And for awhile, several students standing behind the reporters challenged the anti-war speakers, engaging them in a minidebate.
One onlooker demanded to know what the organizers thought should be done about an aggressor like Saddam Hussein, but the organizers ducked that one, saying their objective is to bring the American troops home.
Brenda Voisard, representing the Utah Chapter of the National Organization for Women, said NOW was conducting a protest at the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C., to show its opposition to the American military involvement in the Middle East.
Women serving in the armed forces as part of Operation Desert Shield are ineligible for combat assignments and combat pay, but are at a risk of losing their lives there, she said.
"They are ordered to respect the customs of Saudi Arabia, which means they cannot drive, shop without an escort who orders while they stand aside with eyes lowered, and must wear clothing which is smothering in 120 degree heat," she said.
Women in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are treated as second-class citizens, at best, she said.
"NOW does not support the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, but we are appalled at the possibility that lives should be lost defending the oppressive regimes of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia."
Mailhot said an American war in the Persian Gulf would be "fought in the interest of the oil company profiteers . . . put in motion when the U.S. people have barely had time to blink."