NORTH NEWTON, KAN. - Area college students have organized a Walk for Peace to demonstrate against United States military action in Iraq. Participants will gather at 10 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 15 in front of the Bethel College Administration Building in North Newton. They will walk one mile in non-violent demonstration to the grassy area near the Harvey County Courthouse and listen to guest speakers who have been invited to speak against war. The event is expected to end around noon at the courthouse. "We believe that there are solutions other than war," says John Eads, Bethel College junior from Waco, Texas, who is one of the organizers walking for peace. "This is a demonstration for peace, not one that is against the individuals who serve in the military. We want to see the soldiers come home too."
Among those protesting will be students from Bethel College in North Newton, Hesston College in Hesston and Tabor College in Hillsboro. Individuals and groups from the community and the area are also invited to participate.
"Many people in this country are committed to finding nonviolent alternatives to military action," says John Eads. "Advocating violence of any kind -even speaking violently-doesn't help us relate to people, whether they are down the street or around the world."
Two of the guest speakers will include Frank Smith of Bluff City and Gulf War veteran John McConnell of Wichita.
Smith first helped organize anti-war marches and rallies in San Francisco in the mid-'60s. He was in Vietnam as a peace activist from 1967-69. He describes himself as a "tireless campaigner for social and economic justice since the age of 16." In Cuba in 1957, he saw armed insurrection in response to poverty and imperialism. Since then he has visited many countries during periods of active armed conflict.
"For almost 50 years I've educated myself on the subject of war and peace," Smith says. He believes that his age allows him a more clear perspective on history "than what one acquires from passively accepting what we are fed by the major media."
McConnell demonstrates weekly at an intersection in northeast Wichita and also monthly at the air force base in Wichita. He is a member of the National Network Against the War in Iraq. McConnell currently serves as director of the Peace and Social Justice Center of South Central Kansas, and Feb. 1 he will move to a new position as chair of the board of directors for this organization in Wichita. He is also a full-time instructor in the English department at Wichita State University.
"As a military veteran," McConnell says. "I am very familiar with the uses of the military to advance economic objectives. Politicians use the military because military action creates the illusion that politicians are addressing 'the problem.'"
McConnell believes that violence only masks problems for a short time. Public demonstrations can encourage a response.
"Public demonstrations can force politicians to address the economic objectives overtly and to acknowledge a range of problems at home and abroad," he says. "Democratic and public debate is not possible until citizens and public officials acknowledge the complexity of the situation. In very few cases, if any, does violence help to alleviate the problems at hand."
McConnell grew up in a "very pro-military, pro-U.S. environment." For three years he has related to long-time pacifists.
"I have found that I can learn a great deal from both groups, but that it is much more difficult to hear the voices of those who advocate non-violence. Those of us who do advocate non-violence need to speak up often and in greater numbers," McConnell says.
Planners have received a permit to demonstrate near the courthouse.