Campus Protests Confront War Profiteers

This article first appeared in the MAPA Winter 2019 Newsletter.

As the Saudi-led war on Yemen approaches its fourth year, a new movement of students and young activists in Massachusetts has sprung up to oppose US involvement and call out the arms manufacturers that are driving this bloody conflict.

Over the past month, dozens have assembled at Northeastern, MIT, Boston University, and Tufts to protest the universities’ ties to companies that profit from death and destruction in Yemen. These actions have coincided with several campus career fairs in greater Boston, where “defense” contractors (Massachusetts’ own Raytheon in particular) advertise themselves to students as a great place to begin their working lives.

In early January, an educational forum at BU helped launch the series of demonstrations. The forum—organized by Mass. Peace Action’s NextGen, the Raytheon Anti-War Campaign, and the Coalition to Stop the Genocide in Yemen—featured foreign correspondent and author Stephen Kinzer. We were inspired by an account of the organizing by the SLO Peace Coalition, a student-led group that has been drawing attention to war profiteers at the California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo since April of 2018.

Another panel in late January at the First Church of Boston included Shireen al-Adeimi, a Yemeni professor at Michigan State University who lived through two civil wars in her home country and Beth Huang, co-chair of Boston Democratic Socialists of America, who spoke on the importance of anti-imperialism and internationalism.

Armed with this knowledge, and finding that similar events were planned at colleges in the Boston area, we organized several protests. Outside career fairs at Northeastern, BU, and Tufts, activists gathered with signs and handed out fliers that detailed the war profiteering of Raytheon. At Northeastern, whose campus boasts an amphitheater named for Raytheon, Ryan Costello of the Yemen Coalition said, “The US had to certify in order to continue to sells arms to Saudi Arabia that the Saudis weren’t intentionally targeting civilians; that seems strange because school buses full of children are being bombed, because hospitals and water treatment plants are being bombed.” The Assistant Secretary of State responsible for that certification is Charles Faulkner. Before his appointment by Donald Trump he was employed as Raytheon’s top lobbyist.

At MIT’s xFair, organizers focused on Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Lincoln Labs, and General Atomics. “We are asking MIT to end its relationship with Saudi Arabia and the military companies that are providing weapons for this terrible war against Yemen,” Paul Shannon, leader of the Raytheon Antiwar Campaign, said in an interview with The Tech, MIT’s largest student newspaper.

Despite calls from students and faculty, as well as a demand from The Tech’s editorial board, on February 6th MIT president L. Rafael Reif announced that the university would not cut its ties with the Saudis. That backward response has not stopped the coalition of faculty, students and staff, which is circulating an Open Letter to the Corporation calling for MIT to divest from its relationships with Saudi Arabia and its agencies. The group is organizing a spring seminar and teach-in series on the Saudi monarchy and its policies.

Chance Charley, a Boston University student and member of the Yemen Coalition, and BU alumnus and member of Mass Peace Action’s NextGen, Ana Milosavljevic, entered the career fair at BU to confront Raytheon directly. Chance spoke out loudly and clearly, saying of Raytheon, “It is unconscionable for BU to have them here. We have to stand up and reject Raytheon on campus! They are slaughtering civilians and children.”

We’ve chosen to make Yemen and the alliance with Saudi Arabia a main focus because they are clear examples of our country’s out-of-control foreign policy. The United States is by far the largest supplier of weapons to Saudi Arabia and its main coalition partner in the war, the United Arab Emirates. Over 40,000 airstrikes, as documented by the Yemen Peace Project, have devastated Yemen. Attacks on hospitals, schools, marketplaces, weddings, and funerals have killed thousands of civilians. Repeated strikes on food production and water treatment plants have shown a deliberate use of famine and disease as weapons of war. Over 14 million, about half of Yemen’s population, are now at risk of starvation. Over 1 million suspected cases of cholera have been reported. This is an American war. It could not have begun without the approval of the Obama administration. It cannot continue without the continued support of the Trump administration.

Saudi Arabia has also been accused of giving American weapons to al-Qaeda and using child soldiers on the frontline in Yemen. A recent CNN report stated, “Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners have transferred American-made weapons to al Qaeda-linked fighters, hardline Salafi militias, and other factions waging war in Yemen, in violation of their agreements with the United States.” These weapons include assault rifles, anti-tank missiles, and even armored vehicles. According to David Kirkpatrick of The New York Times, “The Saudis have used their vast oil wealth to outsource the war, mainly by hiring what Sudanese soldiers say are tens of thousands of desperate survivors of the conflict in Darfur to fight, many of them children.”

Amidst the horror, there are reasons to hope. Reintroduced by Representative Ro Khanna of California, a War Powers Resolution is currently on its way to the House floor where it is expected to pass overwhelmingly. In December of last year, the US Senate passed S.J.Res.54 – A joint resolution to direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress. This is the first War Powers Resolution to ever pass in the US Senate. It was the result of sustained public pressure to end American facilitation and complicity in Saudi Arabia’s vicious air war.

As Congress considers putting an end to this illegal, executive catastrophe we will continue to fight the military industrial complex in our own backyard. Raytheon and other war profiteers pay to attend campus career fairs to recruit the next generation of engineers and scientists. Without this influx of intelligent young minds they cannot continue to function. Mass Peace Action, NextGen, and the Coalition to Stop the Genocide in Yemen have done great work to counter the narrative that these war profiteers are selling. Students considering a job at Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, General Atomics, or Lincoln Labs must ask themselves why the protesters outside are raising their voices so passionately. Many of the students inside now know what’s at stake. Perhaps they’ll think twice and choose a vocation of peace, not war.

—Brian Garvey is coordinator of MAPA Next Gen, a group of young activists who are bringing antiwar activism to the millennial generation.