Students, faculty and community join in protest
Members of the Bowdoin community joined more than 1,000 demonstrators in Portland last Saturday to rally against a possible war in Iraq. Despite strong winds and temperatures hovering in the single digits, dozens of students turned out to express their opposition to military action and support continued efforts to resolve the situation diplomatically.
A crowd of 20 students gathered by the polar bear outside Smith Union at noon and drove to the Campus Center at the University of Southern Maine, one of three staging grounds for the protest. They were met by many other groups of students and faculty who made the short trip south on their own. Bowdoin students joined a diverse gathering of families with children of all ages bundled up against the harsh Maine winter, couples with dogs moving in amongst the growing crowd, and older activists sharing stories of marches a generation ago.
Despite the bitter cold, the scene at the Campus Center was lively with bongos, bells, and drums providing a musical pulse for the protest. At 1:00 p.m., demonstrators formed a wide column and marched peacefully towards downtown Portland escorted by the police. They carried giant papier-mâché puppets, banners, and signs ranging from the standard "Peace Is Patriotic" and "Hear Our Voices, No War in Iraq" to "Stop Mad Cowboy Disease." Members of the Bowdoin Coalition Against War in Iraq carried a banner signed by hundreds of other students the week before.
The demonstrators marched down Congress Street through the heart of Portland to Monument Square. Chants of "No blood for oil!" resonated between old warehouses and high office buildings, and students from the Maine College of Art flashed peace signs from studio windows three stories above, as protestors passed. At Monument Square, the group from USM was met by two other columns of demonstrators that began their marches elsewhere around the city.
Together, the protestors walked a loop down along the waterfront and back up to the Square, their ranks swelling as they filed through the city streets. The march blocked traffic along the way, but many motorists were glad to oblige, honking their horns in support of the crowd. At one point, the procession stretched the full length of Fore Street along Portland's historic waterfront, as the demonstrators marched on through the cold for over two hours.
The Bowdoin students and faculty were joined by millions of others protesting for peace around the world. Hundreds of thousands rallied in New York, London, Madrid, Paris, Rome, and Berlin. All told, it was perhaps an unprecedented display of global solidarity on a grassroots level and the single largest day of worldwide protests since the Vietnam War.
Asked to reflect on the rally in Portland, Karen Jacobson '04 said, "This was the first protest I've ever been to, and it was an amazing experience." Rebecca Fontaine '05, a veteran of anti-war rallies in Augusta and Washington, D.C., said that the demonstration Saturday was one of the most positive and enthusiastic she had ever participated in.
French Professor Alexandre Dauge-Roth said he saw at least ten other Bowdoin faculty members at the march. When asked about the protest, he offered this opinion about a possible war in Iraq. "Protests in Portland and all over the world have attempted to counter this bias, to remind people of the traumatic violence of war, and to make heard in America the voices of 50 percent of its own people who are against military action in Iraq. Will Bush hear us? Maybe not. But others have."