Twelve years ago, in the leadup to another war against Saddam and his country, one of my hobbies was being a burr in the side of that same student government. Having spent much of the previous two years arguing with its leaders about free speech, equal treatment under the law, and other civil liberties that they had found "progressive" reasons to abuse, I was suddenly working side by side with them, attempting, in various pathetically inadequate ways, to avert Operation Desert Storm.
"Side by side" may be stretching it: it wasn't a happy partnership, and I wasn't an equal partner. With the student left in the driver's seat, the antiwar movement had a knack for alienating people otherwise opposed to military action. It seemed, for example, as though every single speech at our rallies had to include a condemnation of Israel's behavior in the West Bank and Gaza. I agreed with the sentiment, but a lot of antiwar Jews did not, and I didn't see why the organizers had to take every opportunity they could to stress such a significant point of disagreement. The speakers seemed to see the marches as an opportunity to recruit bodies for their other causes, not a chance to build a coalition with people who didn't share their other concerns.
The posturing reached a low point at a big rally on the eve of the war, where a speaker felt the need to list all the people suffering from oppression around the globe -- or, at least, from oppression by the U.S. and its allies. By the time she'd reeled off a dozen or more victims of official violence in South Africa, Central America, and the Levant, the crowd was getting restless. Usually when I heckle someone, I make an ass of myself, but this time, for once, I yelled the right thing:
"And the 14 Lithuanians!" (Soviet troops had just killed 14 Lithuanians, sullying Papa Gorbachev's international image.)
The speaker look startled. "Um -- yes," she said. "And the 14 Lithuanians."
"And the Chinese!" yelled someone else. (Tiananmen Square was still a recent memory.)
"Um," said the speaker, and chuckled nervously. "Yes, there's lots of problems in the world."
The crowd laughed. The speaker got the point. And the coalition lasted a little while longer, though we never did stop the war.