Tuesday, Sept. 17 — Separate protests in East Lansing and Corunna on the anniversary of 9/11 last week were each demonstrations against potential military action in Syria — but they were held by groups with vastly different social and political ideals.
At 4 p.m. Wednesday, the Lansing Area Ad Hoc Committee for Peace & Opposing U.S. Military Action in Syria organized a peace vigil in front of Michigan State University. Protesters stuffed flyers into the hands of people as they crossed Grand River Avenue and encouraged passersby to call Michigan politicians to insist that they vote against military aggression in Syria.
“Call your representatives in Washington,” said graduate student Paul Hebert. “Tell them not to blow people up.”
Meanwhile, about a half-hour away in Corunna, the Traditionalist Youth Network rounded up eight people to stand in the rain at the entrance to Hugh McCurdy Park. The original plan was to burn copies of the Quran and pictures of the Prophet Mohammad as part of an anti-Muslim demonstration. But the group opted to promote a pro-Bashar Assad message instead.
Matthew Parrott, a founding member of the Youth Network, disputed reports that they are a racist organization, but rather advocates protecting a white Christian heritage.
“We don’t consider Syrians white, but we stand with the Christian Syrians,” he said. “Assad is protecting Middle Eastern Christians. Syrian rebels are forcing people to convert to Islam at gunpoint."
The protesters spread out on both sides of Corunna Avenue holding signs that read “Stand with Assad” and “No war for Israel,” while others waved Syrian flags. Matthew Heimbach, a co-founder of the network, also suggested that the United States should concentrate on domestic problems instead of getting involved in another conflict in the Middle East.
“Given our (The United States) history, we should be the last people to lecture other countries about human rights,” he said.
Over the weekend, the threat of potential U.S. military involvement in Syria wavered as the U.S. and Russia agreed on a diplomatic framework to remove chemical weapons from Syria. However, the latest reports of drafting a United Nations resolution to help resolve the conflict suggests Russia is at odds with part of a draft resolution, particularly as it relates ensuring Syrian compliance with the threat of military force.
But back in East Lansing last week, the crowd was a more experienced lot — one man claiming to have burned his draft during Vietnam War protests. For the East Lansing crowd, it wasn’t about singling out certain religious groups. It was much simpler than that.
“In the last 70 years, we have been at war almost continuously — pretty much all my life,” said Robert Wasserman, a 60-year resident of the Lansing area. “I think we’ve had enough.”
Photos by Amanda Milstead.