On Wednesday, Jan. 25, the Brandeis Leftist Union held a military recruitment protest in the Shapiro Campus Center, tirelessly chanting and showing off their signs in the presence of several Marine recruiters. 

The unrecognized club announced its plans to protest a day after an email from Marine Captain Austin R. Lorah reached Brandeis students’ inboxes, informing the community that recruiters would be on campus to offer information about the Marine Corps Officer Selection Program, “a no obligation, paid summer training program” that would give participants the opportunity to become Marine Officers after graduation. Shortly after this announcement reached students, the BLU posted a call to protest over its Instagram, urging students to join them from 10:30 to 1:30 p.m. in a show of support for “international solidarity” and “resistance to global U.S. imperialism.” 

Four members from the BLU awaited the Marine recruiters in front of the Hiatt Career Center, engaging with students and handing out their flyers covered with designs inspired by social movements that protested the Vietnam War. However, they quickly learned that the Marines would be setting up at the Shapiro Campus Center instead and the BLU members changed course accordingly. The BLU deliberately established itself across from the Marines’ table and set to work, engaging with students, chanting, and attempting to steer any potential recruits away.

As some might know, the BLU is no stranger to protests.

In a written follow-up interview, the BLU highlighted its key activities and protests as “anti-fascist, anti-imperialist, and anti-racist demonstrations.” Furthermore, it has been involved with “mutual aid efforts with Food Not Bombs Waltham and Warm Up Boston,” and rallied both its club members and students in support of dining and library workers on campus. In this case, these members wrote that they were protesting to “drive U.S. imperialists off [the] campus, make a stand against the U.S. war machine recruiting students from Brandeis,” arguing that the University’s past social justice and “anti-imperialist” efforts are the antithesis of its cooperation with the Marines.

When asked to define the connection between campus military recruitment efforts and United States militaristic imperialism, an anonymous BLU member answered, “imperialism requires bodies [to refuel] Saudi jets, bomb buses with children, repair drones to murder people across South East Asia and North West Africa,” drawing the connection between recruitment to the soldiers who are responsible for these actions.

Along with protesting to point out Brandeis’ “complicity” with the U.S. military, the BLU also defined its desire to spread its uninhibited spirit and inspire other students to protest in the same way.

In its desire for visibility, the BLU was not shy about its feelings towards the military and the Marines’ presence. Anyone in the vicinity of the SCC — surrounding students, Einstein Bros. Bagels’ staff and patrons — heard the megaphone-augmented chants of six students over the span of three hours:

“U.S. imperialists, number-one terrorists!”

“U.S. Marines: you can’t hide, you’re supporting genocide!”

“Ho, Ho Chi Minh, U.S.A. will never win!” Ho Chi Minh was a former President of North Vietnam and the founder of the Indochina Communist Party in 1930. 

However, the BLU did not limit their jeering to the United States and the Marines. Instead, they booed any students who approached the Marine recruiters, calling them “losers”  and crying out “shame.” A protester called the desire to serve the country “extremely cringe” and even asked how a student would want to kill people — suggesting that they could do so “from far away, [they] could starve people, [they] could bulldoze their homes” because the Marines “offer a lot of options.”

Since they were in uniform, the Marine recruiters said they were unable to comment on the BLU’s political claims about campus recruitment exacerbating U.S. imperialism. However, they were able to clarify why the military recruits on college campuses and their goals as recruiters. The requirement to become a Marine officer is a 4-year degree from a university along with necessary training, making undergraduate students the best audience and on-campus recruitment displays one of the most effective means to find prospective recruits.

A Marine explained that the recruiters did not intend to “sell [the program] or trick students, [they were] just distributing information to those who did not know about it.” The officer also said that all recruits “can opt out of the training” if desired and that there is no service requirement for those who complete the summer program in the first place — becoming a Marine officer is an option for those who are interested.

In fact, an active service member and Public Policy graduate student at Brandeis — for active duty purposes, they did not want to provide their name — emphasized that paid training programs such as this one and ROTC aid “many people of lower socioeconomic status who would not have had these [academic] opportunities” without aid from the military. Although they were “not unsympathetic” to BLU’s protesting, they found it relevant to express how being a service member benefited both themselves and their family, notably saying that one has to either “sell [their] soul to a bank for student loans or to the Army for GI Bill” in order to afford higher education in the United States. 

That being said, the service member expressed that they came to Brandeis to see different perspectives and “engage with different ideas” such as the BLU’s protest, the student’s respect for protest outweighing the variation in ideology between theirs and BLU’s. 

Much like the opinions of this active service member, student responses were divided. Some found the BLU’s conviction and fortitude to gather and chant for hours in support of a cause they found important to them “impressive” while others found the display polarizing and disruptive. In a follow-up interview via email, the BLU noted that they “received a mixture of support and opposition” and found only a “small contingent of ideologically motivated students” who interacted with the Marine recruiters positively.

While some students respected BLU’s passion, those who did not share the same opinion had multiple reasons as to why that was. In fact, some of BLU’s critics took no issue with their cause — protesting U.S. imperialism and the University’s complacency with the military — but instead, with the Soviet Union flag and communist symbols from within the protest, as well as the BLU’s harsh words for students that positively responded to the Marines: “losers” and “terrorists.”

A student found the protest to be a “boatload of ignorance” and that the protest could not be considered peaceful because the BLU called students names. 

The same student found the Soviet Union symbolism to be “viscerally uncomfortable” because of the number of students with families “as close [as] grandparents” who associate the Communist flag negatively. The student felt that using that flag in a student area “[ignored] the experience” of Jewish students attending the University and claimed they received a dismissive response from the BLU  when they brought their discomfort to the protesters’ attention. 

In the same follow-up interview, the BLU explained their use of communist symbolism, writing: “the hammer and sickle, the flag of the Soviet Union, and other related symbols represent the many things accomplished under these banners.” They outlined some of these achievements: “the triumph over oppressive monarchies, the seizing of state power by oppressed classes, the advancement of women’s rights, the advancement of and material support for national liberation movements around the world.” The BLU explained its foundational ideology comes from Marxism, and they are open to welcoming anyone who aligns with their “basic principles and wants to engage in the struggle for progressive change.”

Furthermore, while not all of its members are communists, BLU added that “many identify themselves that way.” They then explained how they drew inspiration from activists from the 1960s and 1970s, such as the Black Panther Party. The BLU said that they “[look] upon the history of an international communist movement with great fondness [and seek] to learn from its victories and correct its mistakes in [their] own journey.”

Even if not all students can relate to the discomfort that the sight of two Soviet Union flags causes on a heritage-level, the student also questioned the choice to disrupt student life, disdainfully noting the BLU’s use of a megaphone in a closed, indoor space such as the SCC. The student felt that the protesters made the student center too aggressive of a place to productively work — their perspective aligning with a student teaching assistant who had been holding office hours over Zoom. BLU’s amplified chanting and taunting forced the TA to pick up and hold their office hours elsewhere.

The demonstration ended with the BLU following the Marine recruiters out of the SCC after taunting their struggle to fold a table: “Look at you, barely defeated a table. No wonder you lost to Vietnam.” 

The protest left the Brandeis community to ponder its implications — the definition of a peaceful protest, the right to free speech versus the right for all individuals to feel comfortable in a public setting, and even the military’s ability to advertise on university campuses.

Correction: an earlier version of this article implied that the Brandeis Leftist Union compared themselves to the Black Panther Party, but they clarified that they simply learned a lot from the Party.