(U-WIRE) PHILADELPHIA – Sixteen University of Pennsylvania students, many of whom were from the campus group Penn for Peace, spent Thursday night sleeping in prison cells instead of their own beds. The students, protesting against military action in Iraq, were arrested for a sit-in they staged Thursday afternoon in the Philadelphia office of Republican Sen. Rick Santorum.
“We want to make it public that students and citizens in Pennsylvania and elsewhere oppose war in Iraq and we’re exercising our right to speak out against it,” said Penn for Peace member and College sophomore Claire Michaels.
The protest consisted of both a sit-in in Santorum’s reception area and conference room and a rally that followed outside the building in support of the earlier protesters.
The sit-in was a citywide event. Students from Temple University and United States Peace along with individuals in support of peace action were involved in the two-part event, consisting of a sit-in and a rally outside the building.
A total of 19 students walked into Santorum’s office at 10:30 a.m. with the intention of remaining there until 5 p.m., or until their demands were met.
Among other requests, the group demanded that Santorum pledge to vote against Bush’s authorization of military action against Iraq.
Once Santorum was aware of the protest, he called from his Washington office to inform the group that he was in opposition to all their requests and would have protesters arrested at 5 p.m. should they not leave his office.
The protesters proceeded to call Sen. Arlen Specter, a Republican, and Rep. Chakah Fattah, a Democrat, to encourage the politicians to come to Santorum’s office and make speeches on the group’s behalf.
Both Specter, who has yet to announce his stance on a war in Iraq, and Fattah, who is opposed to the war, declined to show their support for the protesters.
According to Penn for Peace member and protester Rob Levy, Santorum’s office was chosen precisely because of his strong advocacy of war in Iraq. In staging the protest, the group hoped to sway Specter to their side and to reinforce Fattah’s anti-war position.
Protesters spent the remainder of the work-day making speeches against the war and being interviewed by ABC, the BBC and local news stations.
“I would actually consider [the protest] a success,” Levy said. “We felt like we were really taking something into our own hands and trying to make a really strong statement.”
Levy was among three other protesters who left Santorum’s office before Philadelphia Police arrived to take away the remaining 16.
When protesters were being taken away by the police, a rally in support of the sit-in had already been underway since 4 p.m. The rally was initiated by Penn for Peace and consisted of about 75 individuals, including adults, children and passers-by.
Participants held signs and posters opposing war in Iraq while chanting, “the world needs us in the streets, we won’t bow down, we won’t retreat” and “this is a mockery, not a democracy.”
Santorum’s office and police officials could not be reached for comment Thursday night.