Amid chilly weather and gray skies, a crowd of students gathered in the HSS Amphitheater on Thursday evening to protest the possibility of an American war with Iran. Around 40 students showed up to chant, inform campus about the situation and share anti-war sentiments.
In recent weeks, American-Iranian conflict has became a topic of significant discussion after President Donald Trump threatened several times to launch airstrikes on Iran and possibly begin a war. Last week, the United States carried out the execution of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, who was classified as a terrorist by the U.S.
In the past, Soleimani had worked with the U.S. to fight against the Taliban and ISIS.
The students’ protest was organized in just two days. On Tuesday evening, student Jay Hearn had the idea to hold a protest on campus regarding Iranian conflict, and he mentioned the possibility to other members of the Roosevelt Network at University of Tennessee chapter, a UT student organization that Hearn leads. The organization and other UT students then worked together to quickly organize Thursday’s event.
The dozens of students in attendance held a variety of cardboard signs donned with anti-war statements. Some were created with serious intonations, such as one which stated “Destroy the U.S. war machine,” while others took a humorous approach to a serious situation, such as “Draft beer not war.” Several students held signs with various forms of the classic, anti-war slogan, “Peace not war.”
Hearn began his opening remarks at the protest by explaining that the event was held in response to Trump’s actions toward Iran, as well as the United States’ general military policy toward the Middle East.
He also drew attention to the fact that since 1998, the year Hearn was born, the U.S. has been at war approximately 86.4% of that time.
“I really want us to be the generation that ends these endless wars,” Hearn said.
Student protestor Ethan Slipher then took the megaphone to express his views.
Slipher began by drawing attention to the United States’ extensive past involvement in Iranian politics, including America’s influence in the Iranian dictatorship and the former war between Iran and Iraq. He then explained that he believes that Trump is in favor of a war in hopes of becoming more favorable among the American people and winning his re-election after his impeachment.
“This latest push towards the U.S. war economy imperialism, that’s essentially just trying to stimulate what is about to be a recession and in hopes to gain enough war time anxiety to replicate what happened after 9/11, to get people on board with supporting the president,” Slipher said.
This same thought process regarding Trump’s intentions was also echoed later in the protest.
Slipher later cited the Pentagon Papers as evidence for what he believes to be a series of lies from the U.S. government regarding many different forms of military action. He stated that, as proved in the Papers, the government lied about America’s success in the Vietnam War in order to continue pursuing war efforts, and Slipher believes that the government is also spreading misinformation about conflict with Iran.
“This is not an isolated incident,” Slipher said. “They’ve done this for most, if not all, of any conflict. ... They’ve been sending misinformation and manipulation to attempt to just clamp down on anything that could stop these wars.”
Throughout the protest, students broke into chants multiple times, stating phrases such as "Hey hey, ho ho, these endless wars have got to go" and "No more war."
Eventually, the group of students moved the protest to the adjacently located Pedestrian Walkway. This location, situated near Hodges Library’s exit and on UT’s central walkway, engaged more passerby students. Several more protestors joined the crowd, while others hollered in agreement or simply stared as they walked by.
As the protest continued, the numerous lanterns lining Ped. Walkway simultaneously turned on, illuminating the sidewalk and students’ faces.
Hearn expressed his gratitude for the students who quickly jumped behind his protest initiative.
“With the help of a lot of people, we’re mobilizing, we’re organizing and we’re against endless wars, and I just really want to thank y’all for coming out,” Hearn said. “It means a lot to me.”
UT’s anti-Iran war protest is one of hundreds that were strategically scheduled by several organizations to take place at 5 p.m. across the United States. Another local protest was held Thursday evening in downtown Knoxville at Krutch Park.