Students, community challenge Powell
By Corinne Reilly
November 14, 2005
Colin Powell's visit to De Anza College sparked massive reaction and protest
from students, faculty, and community members last week.
Protest events began Wednesday and lasted through Veterans Day Friday to
correspond with Powell's three-night engagement at the Flint Center.
Students for Justice issued the initial call for action. "We believe that
Mr. Powell should be confronted for his acquiescence to policies he knew to
be wrong, both ethically and strategically," said statements released by the
Demonstrations included rallies, marches, speak-outs, a peace camp, a war
crimes tribunal, and civil disobedience.
"I think we've welcomed the opportunity for dialogue regarding the war and
foreign policy. We've welcomed multiple voices," De Anza President Brian
Murphy said of the events on Thursday.
"I'm proud of the way the students of De Anza have voiced their opinions."
Powell spoke on the topics of leadership, the Bush administration and U.S.
foreign policy as a part of the Flint Center's Celebrity Forum Series.
Protest events began Wednesday morning with Cindy Sheehan's visit to De
Anza. Sheehan, whose son Casey died in Iraq in 2004, spoke at the Campus
Center with others who camped outside President Bush's Texas ranch in August
to protest the Iraq war.
Veterans of the Crawford camp set up a small peace camp Wednesday through
Friday in the S Quad on campus. De Anza English Professor Mary Ellen Goodwin
secured a camping permit for the area.
SFJ held an open forum and speak-out on Wednesday afternoon at the Sunken
Garden where participants shared information and opinions on Powell's
Events continued Thursday with a war crimes tribunal organized by De Anza
sociology professor and SFJ adviser Rich Wood. A panel of speakers presented
their case against Powell to an audience of about 100 people.
"Concerned residents of a nation must hold their leaders accountable," Wood
said at the tribunal. "We're going to put the war makers on trial today.
Congress won't do it. The media won't do it. So we'll do it."
De Anza student and Iraq veteran Ramon Leal discussed the injustices he
witnessed while serving in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.
"They tell us we are there to spread democracy when really we are there
stopping democracy," said Leal. He spoke about the human rights abuses he
witnessed at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison, the lack of training, equipment
and water for troops and the military's disproportionate recruiting of poor
Retired Air Force Captain Joyce Riley, who served as a registered nurse in
the Gulf War, also spoke at the tribunal. She discussed Powell's negligence
of Gulf War Syndrome.
"Colin Powell, I have sat with your dying men and women," she said.
Powell, who served as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the
war, knew about the risk of biological and chemical weapons in Iraq, failed
to protect U.S. soldiers from the risk, and now fails to acknowledge the
existence of Gulf War Syndrome all together, despite the fact that over
three-fourths of Gulf War veterans are now sick, she said.
Other topics covered at the tribunal included Powell's role in the
Iran-Contra scandal, the occupation of Iraq, and Powell's alleged
participation in the overthrow of the democratically elected government in
Haiti in 2004.
De Anza student Vikram Nahal said he attended the tribunal to find
information unavailable in mainstream media. "This is an opportunity to hear
the truth, which is covered up a lot," he said.
Protesters gathered with signs and megaphones outside the Flint Center each
night of Powell's visit. Police set up waist-high barricades to separate
protesters from those entering the building to attend Powell's speech.
More than 100 protesters gathered Thursday night. Protesters chanted
throughout their demonstration. They passed out literature and information
to attendees of both their event and Powell's speech.
De Anza student Vanessa Bruton attended the protests all three nights. "I
have family and friends in Iraq and I don't want them there anymore,
especially if it's based on lies," she said.
Cupertino resident Phil Pflager, 63, said he chose to protest Powell because
he wanted to spread information to people who might not know the truth about
"Colin Powell is part of the big lie to the world about Iraq and I want him
exposed," said De Anza sociology professor John Fox, who also came out to
protest. "One protest won't make a difference, but continued protests will
While some speech attendees gave peace signs, others engaged in verbal
disputes with protesters.
Speech attendee and Willow Glen resident Jamie Lee, 31, said he understood
both sides of the issues. "There are situations that I feel misled about,
but I don't think that's unique to any politician," he said. He welcomed the
demonstrators. "Protests are part of America. They have a right to be here."
Community groups, including South Bay Mobilization and Peninsula Anarchist
Collective, joined student groups such as the Muslim Student Association and
Students for Justice in the protest.
Plainclothes officers from the Santa Clara County Sheriff 's Department's
Special Operations Unit were present. Officer Joe Waldherr denied
allegations that the plainclothes officers had instigated violence among the
crowd of protesters. Officers from the Foothill- De Anza Police Department
were also present.
Wednesday and Thursday's demonstrations resulted in no arrests and little
conflict between protesters and police.