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 group.

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 record.

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 people.

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 Powell's record.

"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 change minds."

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.