While the majority of the Phillips Academy community welcomed the arrival of former President George Bush ’42, a group of approximately 25 faculty and student protesters gathered on campus this past Saturday to voice their disapproval. Congregating across the street from Cochran Chapel, the group sought to use Bush’s appearance as an opportunity to vocalize its strong opposition to United States foreign policy in the Middle East. The demonstration consisted primarily of residents of Andover, but activists from Lawrence and Salem also joined the protest and touted large and colorful banners marked, “Peace,” “US support the UN,” and “Live Peace.” Battling the pouring rain, the protesters displayed their signs along Main Street for over one hour before Bush began speaking. Sara Duvisac ’03, a Phillips Academy student who was present at the rally, stated, “Our main purpose is to raise awareness. It’s important to voice your opinion.” Despite the fact that, for the most part, Bush avoided political topics during his speech, the demonstrators still felt that Bush’s visit to the Academy was an appropriate time to express their views. Although no particular organization arranged the demonstration, many of the participants have habitually gathered in front of the Andover Town Hall to proclaim their message since the war began. Individual reasons for participating in the rally varied – some of the protesters aimed to condemn the actions of the current president, George W. Bush ’64, and others objected to policies enacted during the administration of his father. All participants, however, sought to proclaim a general disagreement with the handling of foreign affairs and a disapproval of the use of military force in the recent toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. Instructor in English Louis Bernieri, also involved in the rally, remarked, “We are here to stand for peace. We want peace to become an organizing principle in our government, our society, our foreign policy, and in the international community… Bush Senior and Bush Junior both headed governments that chose war and violence to deal with their issues with Iraq when other means were still available. We believe this choice was a grave mistake.” Mr. Bernieri continued, emphasizing the significance of the protesters’ actions, “We are not dreamy idealists, but hard core realists… The cycle of violence escalates with every killing. And this cycle may never end – until everyone is dead.” Other attendees were less certain of their stance, but joined the protest to gain a better understanding of the anti-war movement, including Jen Jhun ’04. She explained, “I don’t know too much about it, but from what I have heard, I think that I’m against the war.” Duvisac also noted that the rally “becomes much like an educational discussion or debate.” Acknowledging that it is unlikely that the protesters will bring about any immediate change in Bush’s international outlook, Duvisac admitted, “Maybe it’s just changing the way people think, rather than the policy… Hopefully, we can show that there are differing opinions, not just the majority that we see in the polls and media…It’s kind of your civic duty. You just have to express your opinion.” Responding to the overwhelming assumption that Saddam Hussein has fallen out of power and that the war is over, Duvisac asserted, “They may say that the war is over on paper, but our troops are still out there.” Jhun added, “From what I understand, it’s over only in the newspapers.” Mr. Bernieri also expressed his intention to continue participating in anti-war rallies, saying, “Whether the war in Iraq is over or the anti-occupation resistance has just begun, we will continue to protest… If the war machine doesn’t stop now, we may be looking at the end of the human race.” Other student leaders, however, were honored to have Bush visit the campus, and expressed their appreciation for his speech. Among these was President of the Republican Club Walter Haydock ’04, who commented, “It was very interesting to hear a former [U.S.] President speak, and I was very excited to hear what he had to say.” As evidenced by the full chapel during the optional school assembly, many students shared a similar interest in the words of the former President. Nonetheless, Mr. Bernieri concluded, “We had a wonderful response from cars and people going into the event. Many people thanked us for being there. We feel it was a big success.”
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