Rutgers Students Pressure New Brunswick City Council & Successfully Pass Antiwar Resolution
By Timothy Horras
Members of the New Brunswick City Council were visibly shocked when supporters of three Rutgers students charged for peacefully protesting the Iraq war packed the May 7th City Council meeting, demanding the Council pass a resolution opposing the US occupation of Iraq and supporting city residents working to end the war.
In attendance were students, community members, labor union organizers and peace activists, united in their desire to bring the troops home. Supporters filled the room to capacity, the crowd spilling out into the hallway. “They wouldn’t let us in until somebody else left,” says Steve Dolnack, a Rutgers student. “When people left, we had to ask to go in, and they were really reluctant to let us. We ended up going in anyway.”
After the routine business of the Council, supporters stood up one by one and argued that the charges against the Rutgers 3 be dropped. Ignoring typical City Council etiquette, all the New Brunswick residents who spoke first introduced themselves and identified which Ward they live in. Residents of all five New Brunswick Wards were in attendance. This act showed solid support on the part of city residents for the creation of a Ward-based system of government, which many attendees spoke in favor of. (For more on the Ward Campaign, check out www.empowernb.com)
Many residents spoke their minds about the occupation of Iraq and lauded the hundreds of protestors who turned out on March 27th to peacefully oppose the war. The atmosphere was charged and emotionally intense; many attendees later described themselves as holding back tears upon hearing their fellow citizens speak out.
Particularly poignant were the words of Chris Straub, the father of one of the three prosecuted students, who drove from Maplewood, NJ to attend the meeting and spoke on record supporting his son Erik and the other students. Chris Staub said that the students who protested are putting themselves on the line to end a war nobody wants. “Most of [our generation] are more concerned about losing our jobs or our reputations than speaking out against this war, so everybody stays quiet,” Chris Straub said. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t care. These young people are saying it for us, and I’m proud of them.”
Jordan Bucey, a Rutgers student and member of Tent State University/Students for a Democratic Society (www.tentstate.com), stood up and read a resolution which had been written by the student activists, which she requested the City Council adopt immediately. “Resolved: That the city Council of New Brunswick will do what it can to support any city residents working to end the War,” she quoted. Resolved: That Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly will be staunchly upheld in all cases of peaceful protest in opposition to the War.” (Full text of the resolution is available below) This impassioned reading drew applause and cheers from the crowd.
While earlier in the evening, one member of the Council suggested that it would be impossible for them to pass the resolution that evening, Councilwoman Blanquita Valenti finally relented, calling for a vote. Councilman Joseph Egan seconded the motion and the resolution was passed unanimously, at which point thunderous applause erupted from the assembled body.
Passage of the resolution adds New Brunswick to the list of almost 300 cities in the US which officially oppose the war in Iraq. Activists said they saw the resolution’s passage as a victory, but they understood it was also an effort at appeasement on the part of the politicians; one which will be ignored if pressure is not kept up. “It’s important that we continue to hold [the City Council] accountable to their promises,” said Tiffany Cheng, a student and member of Rutgers Against the War.
This sentiment was echoed by other students, including Michelle Velasquez, a member of Tent State University/Students for a Democratic Society. “We’re not going to let this end here,” Velasquez said after the meeting. “The prosecution of our friends showed us all that [the students] need a voice and a vote in city affairs.”
Erik Straub, one of the Rutgers 3, agreed that the prosecution of peace activists has awakened students to their lack of a say in major municipal decisions. “Student’s are unrepresented in New Brunswick and that’s going to change,” Erik Straub said in an interview. “We will pass a referendum to create a ward-based system and we will make sure that students are fairly represented on the City Council.” He went on to explain that the many students will be living in New Brunswick over the summer, when they plan to continue agitating against the war and organizing their neighborhoods to gain fair representation.
Jerry Mercado, a longtime New Brunswick resident, said after the meeting that he was proud of the Rutgers 3 and he wholeheartedly endorses the students-led push for a Ward system. “Today we saw the ability to come together as a community: students, community members and city officials,” Mercado said. “Our combined power can make a difference in our city.”
Resolution to support public opposition to the War in Iraq
Passed unanimously by the New Brunswick City Council on May 7th, 2008
WHEREAS, The City of New Brunswick unequivocally supports the men and women in uniform from New Brunswick and the whole of the United State who are stationed overseas in Iraq. These individuals are making unimaginable sacrifices for their country; and
WHEREAS, The Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 was passed by the US Congress on October 11, 2002, and that Public Law 107-243 cited Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction as a primary reason for the use of United States Armed Forces against Iraq; and
WHEREAS, On January 12, 2005, President Bush officially declared an end to the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; and
WHEREAS, This March marked the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq; and
WHEREAS, The City Council of New Brunswick expresses its deep opposition to the Bush Administration’s continuation of the war in Iraq after its mendacious and deceptive methods of garnering initial support ; and
WHEREAS, The City of New Brunswick mourns and honors the approximately 4,000 Americans who have given their lives; and
WHEREAS, The City of New Brunswick recognizes that the physical, psychological, and emotional injuries inflicted on over a million service people who have served in Iraq cannot at this time be adequately quantified; and
WHEREAS, The City of New Brunswick mourns the indescribable suffering inflicted on the people of Iraq, and
WHEREAS, The City of New Brunswick, like cities throughout the nation relies on support from the federal government to adequately provide for the basic needs of its citizens; and
WHEREAS, The United States Congress has appropriated over $400 billion to fund military operations and Iraqi reconstruction, while a steady decline in Federal Housing and Urban Development grants has been experienced since 2002, the year before the war began; and
WHEREAS, The City of New Brunswick recognizes the necessity of maintaining the basic constitutional rights of its citizens, especially in a time of war.
BE IT HERE BY
RESOLVED, That the City Council of New Brunswick will continue to support the troops currently serving in Iraq and their families; and be it further
RESOLVED, That the City Council of New Brunswick will do all it can to help care for those who have been wounded or injured in the line of duty, and support those who are grieving at the loss of a loved one, and be it further
RESOLVED, That the City Council of New Brunswick communicates its desire to the members of Congress to end the war in Iraq and draw down the combat troops stationed in that country, and be it further
RESOLVED, That the City Council of New Brunswick urges the Federal government to pursue solutions to our country’s domestic issues with the same zeal it pursued the invasion of Iraq; and be it further
RESOLVED, That the city Council of New Brunswick will do what it can to support any city residents working to end the War, and be it further
RESOLVED, That Freedom of Speech and freedom of assembly will be staunchly upheld in all cases of peaceful protest in opposition to the War; and be it further
RESOLVED, That at each meeting of the Council, after the Pledge of Allegiance, time is taken to suitably honor those Americans and Iraqis who have lost their lives in the conflict and communicate information about the continuing fiscal and humanitarian costs to the City of New Brunswick.of New Brunswick.