‘Peace Camp’ to be broken
In a throwback to the 1960s, student activists have been staging a Tent City sit-in of sorts on the Chico State University campus. In a move that is very much 2003, university officials have ordered the “peace camp” removed out of legal and safety concerns.
The 24-hour peace vigil in the form of about 15 tents was set up on Feb. 9 by members of the Progressive Student Union (PSU), along with Chico Peace Works.
“We need to have a constant presence,” said PSU member Rhonda Pearson. “We have to up it a notch, keep on building and show that we’re strong and we’re peaceful.”
But the protest has worn thin for Chico State administrators, who were turning a blind eye to the peace camp and hoping it would disperse after the huge, worldwide peace rally last weekend. When it didn’t, the university planned to press the matter, and some students vowed to be arrested rather than tear down the camp.
On Tuesday, Feb. 18, members of the PSU debated among themselves, with longtime student Bob Ray urging younger, more idealistic protesters to consider whether getting arrested now will send the right message about the anti-war cause. “The university was actually pretty decent in letting us stay out this long,” he said.
But Travis J. Elder, an anthropology junior, said, “We’ll risk arrest to keep the encampment here. … Our free speech is more important that that.”
Later that day, a series of conversations among campus police, administrators and the student protesters resulted in a deadline of 8 a.m. Friday, Feb. 21 to pack up and leave.
“From the get-go it’s been a violation of university and state law,” said Rick Rees, Chico State’s associate director of student activities. He said the university supports the First Amendment and even offered to help the PSU find insurance and security so the vigil would be legal in its sleepover element. “They refused to do that,” he said, and instead set up “as an act of civil disobedience.
“The university president said we need to be tolerant and use the broadest interpretation of the rules until it becomes intolerable,” Rees said. But on Feb. 17, with university officials worried about damage to the lawn and the liability posed by dogs, things hanging from trees, random non-students sleeping over, and no nighttime security for the campers, the group was told to clear out by the end of the following day.
“We didn’t want to have a heavy hand on it,” said University Police Sgt. Paula Carr, and the issue wasn’t pressed until it seemed that another planned event held claim to the Free Speech Area on Feb. 19. “It has nothing to do with their purpose for being out there.”
“Our goal is international attention," said Pearson, who still hopes the camp can stay until Feb. 25, when the Associated Students Governmental Affairs Committee is scheduled to vote on a resolution that would condemn a war against Iraq without first exhausting peaceful methods like weapons inspections and humanitarian efforts.