While anti-war protesters were filtering out of downtown D.C. Saturday night, GW hosted a roundtable discussing both sides of the Iraq war.
Eight panelists, including representatives from anti-war organizations, conservative groups and even a representative from the political action committee of fringe presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche, sought to explain their views about the controversial subjects.
About 40 students sat in the audience during the event, which was sponsored by the Program Board. Dustin Wright, Program Board political affairs chairman, said the roundtable sought to give GW students the chance to hear a variety of viewpoints.
Caneisha Mills, a representative from Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (A.N.S.W.E.R.), which helped organize the weekend’s anti-war protests, expressed her discontent with the Department of Homeland Security’s role in protecting the country.
“What is Homeland Security when they cannot respond to the needs of the nation?” she said, referring to the slow response in the Gulf Coast to Hurricane Katrina.
The federal response to Hurricane Katrina dominated the conversation. Liberals criticized the Bush administration, saying National Guard troops in Iraq could have been in New Orleans treating victims. Conservatives defended the president and the merits of the war.
Throughout the event controversial subjects split the crowd. After Jason Schwalm, a member of LaRouche’s political campaign, commented on Bush’s response to Katrina, tempers started to fly.
“Bush don’t care about black or white people,” Schwalm said.
“So what, are you calling us racist now?” said Mark Harris, a GW student in the D.C. Federation of College Republicans. Gary Livacari, political affairs director for the College Republicans, almost left the event after the comment, but Program Board officials were able to calm the panelists down.
Both sides also debated Iraqi politics and the new government that has been put in place following former dictator Saddam Hussein’s defeat by U.S. forces.
Livacari defended U.S. actions in Iraq by explaining how United Nations resolutions gave the United States the right “to attack Saddam Hussein and initiate war,” and allows for the country to occupy Iraq.
“America is much more secure after the war in Iraq,” he said.
Paul Magno, coordinator for the Washington Peace Center, disagreed on the merits of the war, and said that the United States needs to create “a government by the people in Iraq.”
However, while Magno expressed his view of the war, he encouraged students to come to their own conclusions.
“People have their own minds, in this country and every country. Don’t accept our spoon fed information, and make your own views as to the war in Iraq and all political ideas,” he said.
Wright, of the Program Board, said the only criticism he received from the event was the lack of representation by student organizations and racial and gender diversity. The only student speakers were from the GW College Democrats and the College Republicans, and only one woman was on the panel. Wright labeled it as “the only down part of the night.”
While the Program Board hoped to get 150 students to attend the roundtable, Wright said he was glad that there was an audience at all.
“It’s a Saturday night,” he said. “I’m still happy at least 40 people turned out.”