Rain doesn’t dampen student protest

Wednesday was not a pleasant day to be outside.

Cold rain, ever changing in intensity but never completely stopping, pounded away for hours. Thunder rumbled in the distance, a warning of a storm yet to come. Bright flashes of lightning traced across the sky.

Despite the inclement conditions, 35 students stood, many without umbrellas for the better part of two hours at the busy on-campus intersection of Lee Roy Collins Boulevard and Alumni Drive. Their reason? To protest President George W. Bush and possible attacks on Iraq.

And they had the resolve not to let mother nature dampen their message.

“I’m lightning-phobic,” one protester told a companion. “But I’m still out here.”

The protest included several organizations, but was put together by the Black Student Unoin. Urvick St. Jean , president for BSU, said his organization chose to protest because it does not believe in fighting “two wars at once.”

“It’s raining hard, but we’re still out here to see if (passers-by) can get the big picture,” St. Jean said. “This is a small voice, but we can carry it to the top and make our voice heard.

“I hope the rest of the university can see what we’re doing and they can come out with us. … There’s no need to go to war with a different country when we have problems of our own.”

St. Jean’s protesters seemed to place themselves well for maximum exposure. They chose to spread out on all four corners and to stand in the roughly 50-foot wide median at the Lee Roy Collins Boulevard/Alumni Drive intersection. Their position at the intersection was located about a quarter of a mile from Fowler Avenue and within a couple hundred yards of both the College of Engineering and the USF Library.

The group stood at the intersection during the 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. rush-hour period. Hundreds of cars passed during the hour. Each driver was faced with a variety of signs that said, among other things, “Why War?” and “No Blood for Oil.”

In addition, protesters encouraged passing cars to “honk for peace.” Several cars complied.

St. Jean said he believes like-minded motorists honked to show their appreciation for the rain-soaked protesters.

“I think they understand where we are coming from. They don’t see having a war,” St. Jean said. “We’re out here saying there is no purpose (to war). I hope by them honking, they have the same belief as us.”

But not every response was quite so happy with the protesters. Some drivers gave a thumbs-down as they drove past. One motorist stopped and spoke to part of the group demonstrating in the median.

“Kill them all, and let God sort them out,” the motorist yelled from the window.

Nancy Jane Tyson, former Faculty Senate president and professor from the department of English, joined the protest and said she was proud of the students for standing in the rain for their beliefs.

“They’re very determined and dedicated and concerned people,” Tyson said.

Tyson, a Democratic supporter who is rarely without her “Bill McBride for governor” pin, said she was disappointed in Congressional Democrats who supported Bush’s proposal on Iraq. She said, however, most of those Congressmen who supported Bush are future presidential hopefuls.

“I think to some extent (their support) may be self-serving,” Tyson said. “That’s a very telling observation that they (may run for president).”

Tyson said if one of those Congressmen were to receive the Democratic nomination, she would probably still support the candidacy.

“Because nothing is perfect,” Tyson said.

Protester Aliayah O’Keffe said in addition to BSU, the protest was attended by the groups Alliance of Concerned Students and the Muslim Student Association, among others.

Standing with O’Keffe was a girl who identified herself as daughter of suspended USF professor Sami Al-Arian. She respectfully refused comment.

O’Keffe said she opposes war with Iraq for several reasons. She said North Korea, with whom the United States has an uneasy relationship, has created nuclear technology. Why, she asked, attack Iraq and not other questionable countries.

“I say weapons inspectors first, and then we’ll see if we have to go to war,” O’Keffe said.

By about 6:30 p.m., the rain seemed to have taken its effect on the protest. Pieces of signs, devastated by a thorough soaking, lined the side of the road. The volume of cars slowed up as the trickle of protesters drifted away from the location began.

But St. Jean told protesters as they departed that Wednesday was only the beginning. The group decided that it will protest again today, complete with fresh, dry signs.

And of course, their protest will occur rain or shine.