By Andy Lloyd
Students who attended RyeSAC’s semi-annual general meeting voted in favour of a controversial motion to officially oppose any war against Iraq.
The motion blamed United Nations sanctions for the deaths of more than half a million Iraqi children and rejected the justifications for another war in Iraq.
More than 160 students attended the packed meeting, held last Wednesday night at Oakham House. Most were there to voice their opinions on the antiwar motion.
The meeting turned into a heated debate when the motion was put forward. Opponents of the antiwar statement immediately questioned why RyeSAC should devote its resources to an issue that doesn’t directly affect Ryerson students. Others didn’t think RyeSAC should adopt a one-sided political stance, and at the same time claim to represent the entire student population.
Ryerson Students Against War and Racism proposed the anti-war motion. Alex Lisman, a member of the group, answered the critics.
“How can you say it isn’t relevant to Ryerson students? Look around the room,” Lisman said, referring to the unusually high attendance. “We are one of the most diverse campuses in Ontario. Students have family and friends in Iraq that will be killed if there is a war.”
One student in the crowd questioned the use of any RyeSAC statement on the war, “Can we stop the war? Will the Canadian government care about what one no-name school says? Get real.”
A clause in the motion calling on RyeSAC to “build an emergency response” to any war against Iraq raised concerns as well. But RyeSAC president Darren Cooney assured the crowd that an emergency response would only involve organizing demonstrations or facilitating a limited poster campaign.
Major support for the antiwar statement was evident throughout the crowd. The motion passed by a two-thirds majority, eliciting enthusiastic cheers from its supporters.
Emile Rafanan, a third-year engineering student, left the meeting disappointed. He opposed the anti-war statement because it dealt solely with Iraq. “Why just Iraq?” Rafanan asked. “There are problems everywhere in the world. RyeSAC is supposed to serve everybody.” He said if RyeSAC wants to oppose war, they should oppose all war, not just the potential conflict in Iraq.
But Lisman explained that it was a group of concerned students, not RyeSAC, who initiated the antiwar motion. He went on to say that he would support motions by any group of students who want to make a similar statement on other world conflicts.
Lisman said the statement on Iraq reflected the timeliness of the situation, “The war in Iraq hasn’t started yet. So there’s still a chance to prevent it. When you start to bring organizations together in opposition to the war, politicians see votes. They see a reason to oppose the war.”
Now that the motion has been adopted, Lisman and Ryerson Students Against War and Racism will continue the work they’ve already begun. They plan to organize petitions and peaceful demonstrations opposing a war against Iraq. Lisman is asking Cooney to write a letter of support for the anti-war movement.