Students trying to protest next to military recruitings have been treated harshly on several college campuses this fall. Perhaps the most intriguing incident occurred Sept. 29 at Holyoke Community College (HCC) in western Massachusetts when a group of 30 counter-recruiters were maced by about 20 local and state police while protesting near an Army National Guard recruiting table. The nation’s 1,157 community colleges are both a favorite destination of military recruiters and notoriously difficult to organize because of their transient student bodies. HCC has over 6,200 students, 25 percent of color and many from Holyoke, one of the poorest cities in Massachusetts and with a 50 percent Latino population.

“It’s okay for Amherst or Hampshire College to have politics,” Holyoke sophomore Charles Peterson told The Nation. “But once working-class students start protesting, then state cops in riot gear get called in.”

Organizers of the HCC Anti-War Coalition say they were inspired to form their group following the June 2003 suicide of James Lacey, a former Holyoke Community College student who participated in the invasion of Iraq.