Counter-recruiters fight back at Holyoke College


By Bryan G. Pfeifer

More than 100 students at Holyoke Community College and their allies in Western Massachusetts marched and rallied on campus on Oct. 6 to protest the "banning" of student Charles Peterson, as well as the U.S. war on Iraq and military recruiting on campus.

Calling the protest after its members were brutalized and Maced by campus and state cops Sept. 29, the HCC Anti-War Coalition hand delivered its five key demands to college president William Messner.

The demands are: the immediate lifting of the ban on Peterson; an immediate, unconditional public apology from the college; a pledge of non-retaliation against activists; a thorough and impartial investigation; and a ban keeping military recruiters off campus. The Anti-War Coalition also held a press conference Oct. 3 at Holyoke City Hall expressing these demands.

A police riot

Over 30 multinational lesbian, gay, bi and trans students and allies had protested Army National Guard recruiting at the HCC student cafeteria Sept. 29. Another focus was the Pentagon's bigoted "don't ask, don't tell" policy that essentially bars LGBT persons from enlisting—in violation of the college's and the state's non-discrimination laws.

After menacing the students by ripping a placard from one and brutalizing more, campus and state cops dispersed the counter-recruitment demonstrators. At least 20 local and state police in riot gear and gas masks arrived with boxes labeled "gas masks." One student claimed a group of state police pointed guns at him.

The day after he was Maced and assaulted by police at the counter-recruiting action, two state police officers visited Peterson at his home and told him he was banned from campus and would be arrested for trespassing if he entered public HCC property. Peterson is vice president for academic affairs on the Student Senate and is employed at HCC.

Many progressive individuals and organizations from all over the world issued statements of support for the brutalized students.

Cindy Sheehan, the Gold Star mother who confronted George W. Bush in Crawford, Texas, wrote, "I am appalled that students exercising their (fully sanctioned) rights to free speech and to peaceably assemble were abused by law enforcement officials. The right to patriotically dissent from our government is a sacred right and these students should be given commendations.… They were claiming their places in our democracy. The people who mistreated them should be the ones who are being investigated for their brutality and heavy-handed over-reaction, not the students." (

At the Oct. 6 protest, Messner said Peterson has been "invited" to campus to "talk" to campus officials, but to date he hasn't been reinstated. And the college is waffling on banning campus military recruitment, claiming it would lose significant federal funding.

The Anti-War Coalition says this appeal to funding is just a ruse to deflect criticism from the administration's support of the U.S. war in Iraq and its ties to the Pentagon through research contracts. It's also a stalling tactic by an administration that hopes support for the anti-war students will quickly wane, say the students.

The Western Mass International Action Center/Troops Out Now Coalition issued a statement in support of the students which was e-mailed to hundreds on its e-mail list serve. This coalition also distributed dozens of four-page TONC broadsheets at the Oct. 6 protest. They were well received by most low-income and students of color at HCC.

HCC has over 6,200 students, including 25 percent students of color. Many are from Holyoke, the poorest city in Massachusetts with a 50 percent Latin@ population.

Twenty-nine soldiers from Massachusetts and 100 from the Northeastern states have died in Iraq. Many in the National Guard come from what used to be heavily unionized marine and manufacturing areas such as Holyoke. Most were between the ages of 18 and 32 and joined the military to support themselves and/or their families economically or for college funds or opportunities. (

The Anti-War Coalition is asking supporters to call HCC President William Messner at (413) 552-2222 and/or send letters by faxing (413) 534-8975 or e-mailing to express support for their demands.

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