A small group of students clad in black and wearing very solemn faces make their way down the path to Plaza Vaquero, bearing a wooden casket draped with an American flag on their shoulders.
Following closely behind is another group of students, this time carrying a smaller white coffin. The two groups take their grim cargo to the grassy lawn, which is lined with hundreds of white crosses.
This scene, a mock funeral procession for an American soldier and an Iraqi child, took place at noon in the Plaza Vaquero Tuesday as the Justice Coalition honored fallen soldiers in Iraq, and was a part of the Veterans Day celebration.
Members of the Coalition came to the college early that day and set up approximately 300 crosses from the Arlington West exhibit a symbolic recreation of the national military cemetery in Arlington, Virginia in recognition of the 2,845 American soldiers and 665,000 Iraqi soldiers and civilians who have died in the course of the Iraq War.
Stars of David and the Muslim crescent moon were also scattered among the rows of crosses, representing the deceased of other religions.
Justice Coalition member Tabitha Avedissian, who hosted the program, said that its purpose was to “make people realize what’s going on [in Iraq].”
Students, veterans of different wars, and family members of deceased soldiers all took turns addressing the small crowd in Plaza Vaquero.
“Thousands of American soldiers have fallen victim to the brutal policies of the Bush administration,” said sociology major Sandra Cuevas, who was the first speaker. “In the future, we will look back on this [war] as one of the greatest blunders in American history.”
Cuevas mentioned that military recruiters are now frequent visitors to college campuses. “Do not be fooled by them,” she said.
Incidentally, a booth for the Air Force had been set up in the Plaza that day, along with two recruiters.
Air Force staff sergeants and recruiters Nat Klungmontri and Jarod Singer expressed their sympathy for their fellow soldiers who died in Iraq.
“Protesting war is the people’s prerogative,” said Singer. “But [people] shouldn’t protest those who are in the war. The soldiers who are there are just defending our nation’s freedoms.”
Manny “Vdah” Bracamonte did a freestyle rap about the war in English and Spanish, while Ariel Torres shared a poignant poem he had written about the Iraqi conflict.
Vietnam War veterans Clay Claiborne and Chuck Nixon from Veterans for Peace shared their war experiences and compared that war with the Iraqi conflict.
Nixon said that Americans are also terrorists because “[they] have caused the deaths of over 660,000 Iraqis. To me, that’s a terror attack.”
The Justice Coalition also showed a related film titled “Arlington West” at the Student Center.
“Arlington West” was created by Sally Marr and co-directed by Peter Dudar. The movie presents interviews the two filmmakers had conducted at the “Arlington West” exhibit. At the film viewing on Tuesday, both Marr and Dudar were present.
Many of the people interviewed in the film were soldiers who returned from the war or family members of slain soldiers who were coming to the crosses to pay their respects.
All of the speakers expressed support for the troops that are currently deployed in Iraq, but also demanded that the troops be sent home.
The Justice Coalition, who planned and organized the event with the help of Veterans for Peace, said that they wanted the display and the speeches to promote awareness on campus about the current plight of the soldiers and civilians in Iraq.
“It will give [GCC students] a sense of reality,” said member and sociology major Jackie Urquiza. “The crosses and coffins bring out the truth. These will make them take the time to stop and think about all the people who died.”