The Campus Antiwar Network was created on January 17 2003 by delegates from over 70 colleges and universities at twin conferences at George Washington University and San Francisco State University. Its purpose was opposition to the planned invasion of Iraq.
Because it is decentralized, CAN's size and impact do not necessarily correlate with its national events and organizations, but the group's history can be tracked roughly by its national conventions.
CAN's first national conference occurred very soon after its formation, the weekend of February 22-23, in Chicago, and formalized the organization's structure and politics. The 2003 convention occurred during a period of rapid growth of the antiwar movement, just prior to the invasion of Iraq and soon after the February 15, 2003 anti-war protest, the largest in world history. The convention was attended by more than 350 delegates from approximately 100 campus groups.
At its 2003 convention, CAN adopted a structure under the principle that it be student owned and operated. The specific directives were:
CAN adopted its first four Points of Unity:
CAN also decided to call for an April 5 national mobilization in a few major cities following on the heels of the student-labor week of action already being organized from March 31 to April 4.
The U.S. antiwar movement lost momentum with the failure of mass protests to prevent the invasion, and the Campus Antiwar Network was affected by the trend. CAN's second convention, on November 1-2, 2003, was attended by approximately 100 members, from 34 different campuses around the country, with a solidarity address given in the evening by Omar Waraich, a British antiwar activist.
The primary goals of the activists were to discuss the past six months of work since CAN's creation in January, and to organize future goals as well as further codifying the Points of Unity. An important national action taken from this conference was the resurrection of the "black armband" as a symbol of antiwar unity; a throwback from the Vietnam War.
The Points of Unity were expanded into the following:
- We stand opposed to all US wars of aggression.
- We stand opposed to the occupation of Iraq.
- We support the right of the Iraqi people to self determination.
- We demand the immediate withdrawal of all troops from Iraq.
- We call for the US government to pay reparations to the Iraqi people.
- We stand opposed to the oppression of the Palestinian people and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
- We stand opposed to racist scapegoating and all attacks on civil liberties.
- We demand money for education, jobs and health care, not war and occupation!
Over 100 delegates from 30 schools were in attendance at "Stop the War in 2004," which was focused around recovering from the recent presidential election and the re-election of George W. Bush. The main speaker at the event was Mike Hoffman, co-founder of the Iraq Veterans Against the War, who spoke about the Iraqi response to the occupation.
CAN decided to increase positive interaction and support with military groups opposing the occupation of Iraq, as well as to organize demonstrations "against George Bush's inauguration.
Although all other Points were proposed to stand as created, the national conference revised the Point of Unity on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
We stand opposed to the oppression of the Palestinian people and the occupation of Palestinian land, and support the right of Palestinians to self-determination.
With falling approval ratings for President Bush and the war, the growth of the counter-recruitment movement, and Cindy Sheehan's rise to national prominence, CAN grew significantly over the course of 2005. Its fourth national conference, held October 22-23, 2005, at UC Berkeley, drew over 650 participants, with delegates from 37 schools present to vote on the second, organizational, day.
The conference, jointly sponsored by the Campus Antiwar Network and Military Out of Our Schools-Bay Area, sought to deepen the growing counter-recruitment movement among students. It decided on several nationally-coordinated events for the upcoming year: a day of action in protest of the Solomon Amendment requiring universities to allow military recruitment on December 6 of that year; a week of action marking the anniversary of the war in Iraq, with student actions planned on campuses and general, off-campus actions on the weekend of March 18-19, 2006; and a day of action on May 4 2006, the anniversary of the killing of four students at Kent State by National Guardsmen during a protest against the Vietnam War, as well as a memorial for the lesser-known shooting of two Jackson State students on May 14. CAN's call for the student week of action was endorsed by many individuals and organizations including Cindy Sheehan, Howard Zinn, and the Progressive Democrats of America.
CAN's Points of Unity and national structure were unchanged.
The surge in the antiwar movement in late 2005 did not last through 2006, and over the course of that year the Campus Antiwar Network lost much of its national organization, rebuilding only in the spring of 2007. After a one-year hiatus without a national conference, CAN reconvened over the weekend of October 19-21, 2007, to discuss its Points of Unity and to solidify membership. Over 30 chapters sent representatives, with an estimated 200 activists (both delegates and guests) attending. The main event was speaker Camilo Mejía, who talked about his time in Iraq and his gradual realization of his antiwar feelings. Mejía and Liam Madden, both members of the Iraq Veterans Against the War, were in attendance throughout the conference.
CAN revised its Points of Unity into the following Unity Statement:
The Campus Antiwar Network stands for the immediate withdrawal from Iraq of all occupation troops and private contractors. CAN is committed to building a movement based on grassroots, democratic and independent organizing that actively opposes all forms of racism, Islamophobia, sexism and homophobia.
The organization also has a coordinating committee, elected at each national conference. As of the nation conference in 2007, the national committee has been restructured from previous forms to have five regional representatives and four at-large representatives, with decisions made by majority rule. In the past, the committee has had one representative from each of five regions, five at-large representatives, and two high school representatives.
Individual CAN affiliates organize as they choose, although each is asked to select two members to give their contact information to the national coordinating committee. The coordinating committee is responsible for coordinating actions voted on at the national conference.
CAN is first and foremost a group opposed to the war in Iraq. However, besides calling for immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq, Points of Unity have included opposition to the war in Afghanistan, opposition to Israel's occupation of Palestine, and other views. Although some opinions are more controversial than others, CAN strives to reflect the viewpoints of its democratic and varying membership. CAN affiliates are involved in actions around these issues to varying degrees, and individual members may or may not agree with all points; CAN chapters are welcome to choose their own political positions and affiliations beyond the Points of Unity that all chapters follow.
Throughout its history, CAN has focused on grassroots organizing, and put opposition to US military recruitment and building relationships with antiwar U.S. veterans and soldiers at the center of its strategy to end the war. CAN does not take official positions on elections of any kind, believing that such choices should be based on individual preferences. However, CAN actively encourages members and chapters to become as informed on elections as possible, and local chapters often incorporate political discussions into their own meetings.
After Hurricane Katrina, by decision of its coordinating committee, CAN adopted the slogan "Relief Not War!" for the September 25, 2005 protest in Washington, DC. This issue was connected to the war, for CAN members, by the repressive military nature of the relief efforts as well as by the diversion of resources abroad. In February 2006, CAN issued a statement on the Danish cartoons controversy, condemning "racism in any form, as recently displayed in the publication of a series of anti-Islamic cartoons," which it argued "are helping to promulgate state violence against Muslims and Arabs -- including the occupation of Iraq." The statement also attacked the Dubai Ports World controversy, describing widespread bipartisan opposition to allowing a company from the United Arab Emirates to take ownership of some U.S. port operations as "blatantly racist." Anti-racism points of unity were integrated into the Unity Statement in 2007.
Historically, the Campus Antiwar Network has used a variety of tactics:
Campus Antiwar Network chapters have long used local walkouts as a tactic to demonstrate against the militarization of campus and collusion with war related activities while galvanizing public opinion on campus, unifying CAN groups with other progressive groups, and recruiting new members. The network is able to utilize the internet and conference calls to rapidly create walk outs, although most of the largest walkouts are on specific anniversaries or important dates.
Several walkouts occurred immediately after the US invasion of Iraq including a large one at San Francisco State University. In 2005, a walkout took place at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Over 100 students left class, demonstrated, and then marched past the Army Recruitment Center at University Square.
In 2007, large walkouts occurred as a result of the efforts of CAN groups. On February 15, the fourth anniversary of the largest antiwar demonstrations in history, walkouts occurred at 17 different schools including Columbia University. The Columbia walkout achieved campus-wide support including a petition signed by forty professors and an endorsement by three campus unions. Three hundred students participated in the antiwar activities that followed.
On March 20, 2007, the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, nearly 80 schools answered calls from Campus Antiwar Network and SDS to walk out of class in protest of the war. Hundreds of students from schools across the country walked out against the war and demonstrated in highly visible locations. At Rutgers University in New Brunswick New Jersey, 400 students walked out of class, blocked a marine recruiting station, and took over an interstate highway.
CAN views walkouts as a good way to get students involved with the antiwar movement for the first time. As many students fight against the apathy that is the generalization of their generation, viewing fellow collegiates in action is important to continue growing the movement.
Most photos are from the Traprock Peace Center website