Anti-war group decries USF's ties to military

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Gage Lacharite, center, head of the local branch of Students for a Democratic Society, prepares to hand out “counter-recruiting” fliers at USF's Marshall Student Center. JAY CONNER

/ Tampa Tribune

TAMPA — Counter-recruiting. Demands that the university break ties with the military. A mass die-in.

It may not be the 1960s, but Students for a Democratic Society is dusting off the old playbook to launch an anti-war, anti-U.S. military campaign at the University of South Florida.

SDS, perhaps the largest and most influential radical student organization of the 1960s, is springing back to life in the wake of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. SDSers from USF have scheduled a news conference today to demand that the university sever memorandums of understanding it has entered into with U.S. Central Command based at  MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, and U.S. Southern Command based in Miami.

“Both of these institutions are responsible for thousands of deaths over the years,” said Gage Lacharite, head of Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society. “I don't think these are institutions that belong at USF. I think we should be striving to bring humanity forward, not backward.”

The university's trustees entered into a memorandum of understanding with Centcom, and the school's Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean signed the pact with Southcom. The memorandums give the two parties “a collaborative relationship that mutually benefits the military and academic communities through shared capabilities and expertise,” according to the Centcom document.

They allow the two military entities to recruit students, reserve rooms and bring speakers to campus, the SDS says.

Lacharite and other members of the group staged a counter-recruiting effort Wednesday near a U.S. Marine Corps recruiting table at the Marshall Student Center.

They handed out a leaflet headlined “Don't Join the Military,” which listed facts and figures from the Mideast wars, and another suggesting corporate power and profiteering might be behind the military action.

USF did not interfere.

“In general, a student organization would be permitted to hand out noncommercial material in public spaces as long as it is not disturbing the normal course of business, the academic environment, things like that,” said university spokesman Adam Freeman.

“To my knowledge, in this case, Marshall Center staff were not notified of any disturbances or disruptions.” Marine recruiters on Wednesday declined to comment, and the executive officer of the Orlando recruiting station could not be reached.

The news conference regarding the memorandums of understanding is today, and the group will stage the “die-in” — with protesters simulating dead bodies on the ground — on Dec. 4 outside a meeting of the USF Board of Trustees.

USF has been recognized as one of the nation's friendliest universities to veterans.

“I'm absolutely not anti-veteran by any means,” said Lacharite. “My father's a veteran. We're not anti-veteran, we're against the violence, we're against the misinformation.”

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