SOUTH BEND, IND. -- On the most militarized campus in America, some University of Notre Dame students are saying no to George Bush and his threats of war. The recent dedication of a $5 million building for the school's ROTC program -- the 10 percent of Notre Dame's enrollees is the nation's largest -- was not enough to distract 1,600 students from signing their names in the days following to an anti-war petition.
"We demand that you make an immediate declaration stating that the United States will not make an offensive strike against Iraq," the petition tells Bush. "We condemn any ploys to provoke an Iraqi attack."
Other campuses are stirring. A nationwide teach-in at 500 colleges is being organized for Dec. 7, with a national student rally scheduled for Jan. 26.
Those are worthy beginnings. Follow-through is now the challenge. Upheavals, not dust-ups, are needed. To be taken seriously -- which means to jam the gears of the $800-million-a-day U.S. war machine -- college students need an exertion of collective power that goes beyond signing petitions against the gulf encampment. It needs to include broad and long-term resistance to the persisting war-preparation and warmaking ethic that America relies on, Saddam Hussein or not.
Such resistance isn't easy. College students in this year's freshman class were third-graders when Ronald Reagan became president. The preachments they have heard from him, and now echoed by Bush, are that someone, somewhere else -- not us, not here -- is always the problem.
For solutions, college students have been conditioned to quick-fix violence. There's a problem in Grenada? Bomb it. A problem in Libya? Bomb it. In Panama? Bomb it. In the Persian Gulf? Get the bombs ready and take aim. Greenpeace reports that 29 nuclear-capable surface ships, six nuclear-capable attack submarines armed with 500 nuclear weapons, six carrier battle groups and 478 Tomahawk missiles are now in the gulf. That's still not enough. More are on the way.
What can the organizers of campus anti-war protests do about that? Plenty. They can begin to wake up their individual campuses by reminding their schoolmates that opposition to U.S. militarism first means opposition to what the nukes, bombs and armies are protecting -- "vital interests," which means vital excesses. Americans are 5 percent of the world's population but operate 35 percent of the world's cars. Twenty-six barrels of oil are consumed annually on average by each American. In Italy, it is 11 barrels; in Colombia, two.
Four specific actions can be taken by campus organizers:
1. Circulate on all 500 teach-in campuses oil reduction pledge cards on which students promise to reduce their energy consumption by 25 percent or more in 1991. How to do it? Less mileage in private cars, more on bicycles, foot or public transportation.
An oil reduction pledge card is a focus on personal responsibility. A falsified reality has been created by the sellers of energy. In "The Steward," Douglas John Hall, a McGill University theologian, writes: "Companies that want you to buy their gasoline, oil and soap may be very happy to bring you entertaining family programs (on television), or even opera. But they are not likely to treat you to documentaries on the condition of peoples whose economies are in ruins partly on account of our inordinate consumption of the world's energy supplies and the interest they must pay on their debts to us."
2. Couple the protests against the military in the gulf with opposition to the Pentagon's presence on campuses via ROTC. By lavishing cash and scholarships on students -- mostly the strapped who couldn't get through school otherwise -- a mercenary army is assured. Pressure administrators to find financial aid for low-income students exclusive of ROTC money that has countless strings -- and ropes -- attached.
3. Go into local high schools and provide information on conscientious objection to draft registration. Signing for the draft is the first it's-for-keeps decision that adult males make in this country. Yet how many high schools offer courses on draft resistance or even pass out literature so that the young have a full range of choices?
4. Pressure college curriculum committees to begin or expand peace studies programs. The history, methods and successes of nonviolence -- both in settling conflicts in homes and workplaces, and among governments -- ought to be an academic staple. It can be if students demand it.
A campus protest movement that includes those, and other, local-based resistances can help bring on the structural changes needed globally. If Bush, the Pentagon and oil companies are the problem, then acting on answers to the question "How do we stop cooperating with them and begin cooperating with true peacemakers?" is the solution.