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Students pencil in Iraq protest

Organizers hoping for crowds, even if only between classes

By Bryan Long

Students at the University of New Hampshire gathered for an anti-war protest last Thursday.
Students at the University of New Hampshire gathered for an anti-war protest last Thursday.

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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Amanda Crater, 20, will start Wednesday with butterflies in her stomach.

She's one of many student organizers of "Books not Bombs," a countrywide campus war protest put on by the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition, and she admits she'll be nervous.

But before Crater joins the University of California-Berkeley's local demonstrations and before she calls several regional radio shows, Crater will attend an 11 a.m. class for her minor.

"I'm going to walk out of my dance class, which is kind of a big deal," she said. "I will go to class and leave early. Most of the activities begin at noon."

Call it appointment protesting, a modern spin on taking to the streets.

On Wednesday, students from more than 360 colleges and high schools will participate in a daylong strike. Although it's unknown how many students will participate -- or to what degree they'll take part -- organizers expect a wide range of activities for a diverse group of students.

Max Sussman, 20, has helped organize a daylong teach-in at the University of Michigan, where he's a sophomore. There will also be a rally at noon that's scheduled to last an hour.

More than 300 students in Ann Arbor have signed Sussman's Anti-War Action pledge vowing some sort of participation.

"If people feel like they can attend one talk but they have one exam to take, then we consider them a participant," he said.

Protests, full schedules conflict

Unlike memorable protests of the Vietnam War, in which students skipped days of classes or shut down campuses for weeks, today's collegiate activists pencil in their anti-war activities much like corporate executives plan for meetings.

David Davenport, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank associated with Stanford University, is familiar with both approaches.

"Back in the '60s and '70s, you know, they didn't run on that kind of schedule. Protests might go on all afternoon," he said.

Today, fliers around college campuses -- and Internet sites, too -- announce when and where each protest will begin and end.

"Now it's something you squeeze in as an extracurricular activity along with your classes and other projects," he said.

There are good reasons for the differences, Davenport said.

At the top of the list is that war with Iraq is still a theory. Americans were fighting in Vietnam for years before war protests reached a critical mass.

Also, because there is no draft, students are not as personally involved with a possible war as students were during Vietnam. And the vast majority of college students were less than 10 years old when the United States fought Iraq in 1991.

"The main war of their lifetimes has been the Gulf War, which was over in less than a week, so the kind of horror of body bags mounting up is just not of their experience," Davenport said.

Even collegiate supporters of the Bush administration aren't immune from looking to the calendar to find time for rallies.

Erik Caldwell, 23, is chairman of the California College Republicans and a student at California State University San Marcos. Although there are no plans for "support our troops" rallies Wednesday, he has organized monthly pro-Bush events for about a year.

On most campuses, events start at noon, and "normally the university limits how long we can be out there," he said. Some last for half an hour.

'They want to do something'

Sara Ahmed, another organizer of the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition protest, is not deterred by a full schedule.

"Most of the people that I've talked to on campuses really do have a good idea of how things work," Ahmed said. "I think that as far as they're concerned, they want to do something."

Ahmed and the peace coalition are asking students to leave class for the day and attend war protests on campus.

"Obviously some students will not be able to do that, and that's asking a lot," Ahmed said. "We're not asking them to risk punishment on their own behalf if they don't have to."

Many groups have chosen to demonstrate for a few hours, or only in the morning or afternoon. Some are working around midterm schedules, Ahmed said.

Although Davenport calls modern protests "neat, orderly and dispassionate," they still serve a purpose, he said.

Ultimately, Crater said, the peace coalition wants to send the message to the Bush administration and to educators on college and high school campuses that war can be avoided.

"We don't want this [war] to be a cowboy fight," Crater said. "Every building we bomb in Baghdad will be another September 11. There will be innocent people dying in them."

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