co-Commentary Editor/Art Director
On Sept. 11, 2010, two transfer students ignited a controversy that began with a simple protest and exploded into the realm of Facebook and beyond.
Julia Pitt and Sarina Arahovas carried signs that read “De-Militarize McDaniel” and “Americans, Afghans, Iraqis: All Victims of Terrorism” respectively, and paraded them through campus, ultimately stopping at the football field.
Pitt and Arahovas are members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), a national leftist radical group that began in 2005 and exists on several college campuses.
According to the organization’s website, “Students for a Democratic Society is a radical, multi-issue student and youth organization working to build power in our schools and communities. We are entirely student and youth-led and have over 100 active chapters in high schools, colleges, universities, and cities all over the country.”
According to Pitt’s blog, Propaganda Lalaland, a woman shouted at them during the protest, “My son graduated from here and joined the military – are you against my son? Where would America be without a strong military?”
Many other people shared similar opinions.On the McDaniel ROTC Facebook page, Missy Jean commented, “I love you all. I love your service to our awesome country. fuck the demilitarize group. they suck big dick. keep the pride!”
“I in no way have something against the ROTC or its members,” said Arahovas. “I may not like the war, but I admire those who have the courage to fight for what we as Americans have (even if it isn’t perfect), because I know I don’t.”
She was protesting next to Pitt, and while most students assumed they were for the same cause, Arahovas drew a distinction. “I was protesting beside her,” said Arahovas. “If one person is protesting, why not join in support. While some factions of SDS may support anti-militarization, this does not mean that it should be falsely advertised as an “anti-ROTC” organization, nor does every faction of SDS have to follow such a belief at all.”
Many McDaniel students do not understand this distinction. Even bringing the topic up in classes inevitably sparks a heated discussion.“I just think it’s all really childish that it’s even become this big issue,” said junior Lauren Hamby.
On the ROTC Facebook page, Emily Kinnaman commented, “I hope you guys do something about those disgusting hippies that shit is disgraceful…good luck to u all and god bless,” to which ROTC responded, “There will always be people who dislike us, and there is nothing we can do or say to change their minds. So we will hold our heads up high like we have always done and push on! HOOAH!”
The Green Terror Army ROTC battalion is nationally recognized and consists of cadets from not only McDaniel College, but also those from Hood College and Mount Saint Mary’s University, according the the McDaniel College website.
The protest is “ridiculous because there’s not even a problem with ROTC on this campus,” said junior Samantha Lopez.
Army ROTC at McDaniel College has been around since 1919, back when the school was called
Western Maryland College. Pitt said that it’s a “moot point to say what the college started out as. Times change, people change.” She cited an example of religious affiliations disappearing from Ivy League schools.
Sophomore Sarah Holbrook said, “I feel like everyone has the right to their own opinions, but there’s a time and a place to do these things, and that probably wasn’t the best one.”
“If it is disrespectful to protest on 9/11, how disrespectful to human life is it for Americans to not protest their country’s illegal and immoral wars on 9/11?
The September 11th attacks have been used to justify even more death, torture, and exploitation – that’s a fact I don’t think anyone can deny,” said Pitt in her blog.
“I feel like it’s not even about which side you agree with at this point, it’s about respecting others
and more importantly respecting the men and women who protect our country,” said freshman Kaitlyn Kivi.
“You don’t just get to trample on the memory of a terrorist attack because you don’t agree with politics since then. People like my dad protect her freedom of speech and give her the right to protest, so why the hell is she protesting them? Also, if demilitarization is really that important to her, then why did she choose to go here?”
Pitt chose to make McDaniel her home because of its academic reputation, proximity to Washington, D.C. and several of her close friends, and a McDaniel scholarship. She doesn’t want to live in a militarized environment and said that “Demilitarize McDaniel” is a campaign to raise awareness of militarism. She isn’t “against the people, just the program.” Campaigns to oust ROTC programs have worked before; Pitt cited examples of this in the Vietnam era.
An anonymous military retiree and member of the ROTC personnel said that he doesn’t understand their opinion, but respects their right to have it. He explained that the reason soldiers fight is to defend people’s freedoms to have and express these beliefs and opinions.
Pitt agrees that these cadets probably believe in what they are doing. “I believe the people in North Korea who join their military are gonna think they’re doing something good,” said Pitt. “Nobody is gonna come out as an enemy of liberty.”
Students in ROTC could not be reached for comment. In an email from CDT MAJ Turner Conrad, a junior, he stated: “Unfortunately, cadets in the Green Terror Battalion are not authorized at this point to conduct public relations on the matter; however, I have already sent a request up the chain of command. Please be patient as this is a formality associated with civil-military affairs, of which I am not a direct representative.”
“ROTC told us when they first heard about it that they did some research on the group,” said sophomore Tyler Justice. “One of the two girls is a self-proclaimed anarchist and she’s trying to organize a movement. That kind of contradicts itself, since they’re anti-organization. My own personal feelings are that they have the right to their opinion. That’s something they drill into soldiers, too. They risk their lives so that people can share their opinion without fear of persecution.”
Pitt states in her blog, “And let’s get one thing straight here: the military does not fight for my freedom or the freedom of anyone (except maybe the “freedom” of corporations to keep exploiting the Third World). The “protection of freedoms” wasn’t the reason states developed militaries, rather, militaries came into existence to invade and oppress others. How are my freedoms preserved by depriving others of theirs?”
“The people doing their protest have a right to their opinion, but I wonder if they actually weighed the positive aspects of the program against the things they perceive to be negative,” said sophomore Hanna Martin.
According to the aforementioned anonymous source, ROTC students have high GPA’s and mental and physical strength. This prepares them for life outside of college, whether it is active duty, the reserves, or civilian life.
Additionally, the Army gives over $1 million in scholarships to McDaniel cadets each year. Arthur Wisner said that this Fall, $532,000 came in.
“It is upsetting that you have to take that kind of [militaristic] stance to be able to afford school,” said Pitt. “Many people join just because of the free college education. There should be other ways, you shouldn’t have to go through that to afford college.”
Sophomore Max Ebert said, “The Demilitarize McDaniel joke is a very, very stark indicator of the fact that this generation suffers a huge gap in knowledge and idealism. The military is dedicated to helping people get through school. These people are blaming the wrong people. They’re blaming ROTC for starting a war.”
If ROTC were eliminated from the McDaniel Campus, which sources say is unlikely, the students involved with the program would be eligible for academic scholarships from the school.
They would be the only ones affected by the Army’s withdrawal from McDaniel, as academic scholarships are awarded to every student that meets the criteria; there is no competition in receiving these scholarships. However, it is unlikely that the cadets would receive as much money from the school as they are currently receiving from the Army.
“We try to award based on history,” said Wisner. “We wouldn’t reduce academic scholarships in number because we’d prefer as many of the good students as we can get.”
People “go to college to expand your horizons and to learn more,” said Pitt. “It seems to me that they started this movement without doing their homework,” Ebert said. “Based on looking at their Facebook it’s painfully apparent that these punks have no coherent idea of how government works. Someone who calls themself an anarchist needs to understand how the government working order to believe it shouldn’t exist.”
“When you put yourself out there, you’re gonna get people who disagree,” said Pitt. “When you get a debate going, you’ve reached your first step.”
Her blog takes it a step further: “It is something though, when people see the mirror that reflects all of horrors of the system they support. They hate seeing it and become ferociously angry when others show it to them. How is it that promoting war is seen as a part of the campus, when promoting peace is something to be scorned?”
Pitt feels that while the McDaniel campus includes students with a variety of beliefs, generally, students don’t seem to care about issues. “I would just like [the McDaniel Community] toexpand their ideas about politics and society, because for most of my life I didn’t know much about politics or anything like that [until I] started reading. Information is useless unless you do something with it, you wanna share these ideas with others,” she said.
Pitt and Arahovas were not anticipating the negative reaction they received, but their main problem was the use of their photos without permission in a Facebook group called “Students Against Self-Righteous Protesting,” which is “liked” by 83 people.
“I am…against the use of my picture because of the context it was used in on the Facebook site,”said Arahovas, who was holding a sign as a memorial to everyone who has suffered because of terrorism. “I was made a scapegoat for a cause I didn’t even voice out against. I am not against the ROTC and I will not take kindly to my photo being used as a target at which people can throw their insults. If someone would actually like to talk to me about what MY sign said, that would be great. But don’t use me as a target for an attack on an ideal that I don’t stand behind.”
The mission statement of the Facebook group, created by Noah Patton, says the following: “We are McDaniel Students against the ignorant and self righteous. Those who believe they know all, but in fact, know nothing; and then decide to annoy and offend everyone else about it. We do not agree nor disagree with their beliefs but merely their attitude.”
“The point of the…group was never to discredit their ideas,” said Patton. “Their ideas have merit and deserve to be heard just like anybody else’s. However, the group was a bit of a call out on the way they conducted themselves in protesting on 9-11 in a small group like that. The group calls them on their whole attitude of ‘Arise McDaniel and throw off the chains of your oppressors!’ and says back to them ‘Why the hell should I listen to you? your not better then me or anyone else.’”
Facebook users used this page, as well as the page created by Pitt and Arahovas called “Demilitarize McDaniel,” to express their own opinions on the matter. “I was surprised a bit( although I probably should have expected it given the internet and all) at how people seized the group and made it a forum to take down their ideals,” said Patton. “Not in the plan, not at all.”
Senior Jake Friedman said during a soapbox last Friday that “McDaniel is not prepared for a protest group…we should have reacted differently.” “How many people are actually participating in this protest? Though I agree that they are counterproductive/wrong/whatever, I worry that we as a community could be unfairly ganging up on a very small group of people. I worry that this sort of reaction might serve as a deterrent for other, more relevant protests in the future,” wrote junior Ed Lasher on the wall of “Students Against Self Righteous Protesting.”
The “Demilitarize McDaniel” page received so many negative comments that it was taken down. The following explanation, written on the wall of Bobby Whittenberg-James by Pitt, showed up as a result for a recent Facebook search for the “Demilitarize McDaniel” group: “Just letting you know, we’re going to get rid of the “demilitarize mcdaniel” page and instead set up a group for our campus’ SDS that we’ll invite you to. Wayyyy too much hate on the demilitarize page.”
The new page, “Students for a Democratic Society,” is secret and therefore unsearchable. The McDaniel College chapter of SDS currently has two members, Pitt and Arahovas, and thereforecannot be recognized by the college until membership reaches six. Club meeting times and location have yetto be determined.
They are looking for “people who are actually willing to be out there, ppl who share a lot of the basic values but also people who are willing to act on stuff,” according to Pitt. Plans for this year include looking into the companies in which McDaniel is invested in order to urge the college to sever ties with companies that maintain unethical practices. This is called divestment.
Additionally, on October 7, there will be a nationwide strike for higher education. McDaniel College as participating in a “protest, march, rally, strike, walkout or petition to show their support for those across the country and the world fighting to defend education, to send a clear message to administrators, legislators and government that we will not remain silent while education is under attack” according to the SDS website.
“A lot of these issues, they affect people,” said Pitt. “They don’t realize it until it actually hits them.”
For more information on Students for a Democratic Society, visit their website at www.studentsforademocraticsociety.org. See “We Live in Shades of Gray” on page 13 for information about the ethical challenges of writing this piece.