Created on Tuesday, 18 September 2007 20:45
Written by Mike Ferner
New Day in the Anti-War Movement?
by Mike Ferner
ther demonstrations against the war in Iraq have been larger, but the one that happened in Washington, DC this past Saturday was significant in another way because of a very different feel about it.
Contingents of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW ) and Veterans for Peace lined up at the front of the march, sponsored by the International A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, stepping off on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House. Hundreds of mostly youthful â€œmarshallsâ€ formed a long line on either side of the route, holding hands and placing themselves between the crowds filling the sidewalks and the marchers, later estimated by wire services at 100,000 people.
One sign visible in enormous block letters invited everyone to, â€œStand with Maine. End this War,â€ another proclaimed â€œFunding the War is Killing the Troops.â€ An updated version of a chant not heard since Richard Nixon occupied the White House echoed, â€œBush. Pull Out. Like Your Father Should Have.â€ Not far behind the veterans stood Santa Claus in full regalia on 10-foot stilts holding a sign that read, â€œTroops Home Before Christmas.â€
One sight, never before seen in a protest march nor certainly any
parade in the nation, was the IVAW â€œcolor guard.â€ Geoff Millard,
President DC Chapter of IVAW, dressed in full desert camouflage barked,
â€œIVAW. Fall in. Columns of four.â€ Immediately, to the front of the rows
of veterans marched seven of their number, each holding erect a
Following tradition, the U.S. flag was in the
lead, except this time it was upside-down. In a straight line followed
six more flags, all black, each with a different corporate logo â€” one
for Halliburton Corp., Bechtel Corp., Lockheed-Martin Corp., Blackwatch
Corp., CACI Corp., and Dyncorp Corp â€” all on the very short list of
winners in this conflict.
Making the color guard stand out even more
prominently in grim relief, Carlos Arrendondo solemnly pulled a small,
flag-draped casket on a carriage. On the casket stood the oversized
photograph of his son that accompanies him everywhere, and a pair of
empty, desert combat boots that belonged to him before he was killed in
The words spoken by the solemn-faced IVAW members were
even more arresting than the visuals they carried. A young vet led a
sing-song, call-and-response cadence familiar to soldiers everywhere.
The answers echoed off the houses of power and back to him.
â€œWhatta We Say?â€
â€œWAR IS NOT A GAME!â€
of Americaâ€™s finest young men and women, raised in a society that
idolizes all things martial, indoctrinated during months of basic
training, highly skilled as riflemen, tank operators, police, satellite
communications operators and medics â€” proficient in every skill needed
to run the worldâ€™s most powerful military, marched confidently down the
main street of their nationâ€™s capital, chanting â€œTroops Out Now. Iraq
for Iraqisâ€ and â€œNo Justice, No Peace. US Out of the Middle East!â€
In between such chants, individual vets took their turns at a bullhorn for longer, more thoughtful comments.
Israel, a native Kentuckian who had already completed a hitch in the
Marines and then enlisted in the Army after September 11, 2001,
repeated the Enlistment Oath taken by every person joining the
military, that swears them to protect and defend the US Constitution
against â€œall enemies, foreign and domestic.â€ He asked the crowds on the
sidewalks to consider what they would do â€œwhen your leaders tell you to
fight an unjust war based on lies. The occupation of Iraq is a form of
terrorism and we refuse to support it!â€
With his comrades
falling quiet and raising their fists high in the air in salute, the
former Military Secret Security sergeant who guarded General Petraeus
â€œand all those other bastards,â€ said â€œWe walk in silence for our
brothers and sisters who died for a lie. We didnâ€™t join the military to
become slaves to the military-industrial complex. We joined to serve
Minutes later, the IVAWâ€™s confident message came
under attack as their front rank approached a thousand or so angry,
screaming people calling themselves â€œA Gathering of Eagles,â€ occupying
three blocks of sidewalk reserved for them by police. Their snarled
taunts and invective were quickly drowned when the vets bellowed in
unison, â€œSupport the Troops. WE ARE THE TROOPS!â€ Then in one of the
most memorable moments of the day, IVAW Board of Directors member, Adam
Kokesh, marching in command alongside the color guard, ordered,
â€œColumn, HALT! Left FACE!â€ whereupon he spun on his heel, faced the
angry crowd, and held for several long seconds his best USMC salute.
The surprise maneuver left the gathered eagles momentarily taken aback
and the crowd cheering.
En route, the marchers were treated to a
vista possible only in Washington, DC, as the Capitol Building, backed
by a perfectly blue sky, appeared to almost float on moorings. Its
looming presence foretold dramatic events soon to happen on its steps.
march concluded at the base of several flights of stairs leading to the
front entrance of the Capitol Building. When an air raid siren blew the
signal, about a thousand people, led by the IVAW and VFP, â€œdiedâ€ and
fell to the ground. They remained in repose for a half hour or more as
kevlar-vested Capitol Hill Police officers lined a low barricade
blocking entrance to the stairs, and a recording played, of former
President Eisenhower reading his farewell address warning the nation of
a â€œmilitary-industrial complex.â€
As Ike droned on,
photographers snapped pictures of uniformed US soldiers lying â€œdeadâ€ on
the steps of their Capitol Building. One of the most popular of the day
was the image of an upside-down US flag standing in stark contrast to
the white, stately Capitol. Tension could be felt in the air.
The final action began to move when Kokesh stood to read a letter he had sent to members of Congress.
have come before you today with a simple message: as a representation
of the people you have failed us and you have blood on your hands. This
is blood that the American people will not allow to continue to be
spilled in our name any longer. Today we are marching in solidarity
with the Iraqi people who want the occupation to end. It is fully
within your power to stop this tragedy.
You have just heard the
testimony of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. General Casey was
replaced by General Petraeus because he would not support the
Presidentâ€™s agenda of keeping as many troops deployed as long as
possible, keeping our military teetering at the breaking point. General
Petraeus was selected for this position not only because of his
abilities as a soldier, but also for political purposes. When he
testified before you he was acting in his role as a political
appointee. He told you the surge was working. This is the same absurd
optimism that we have been hearing since the beginning of this
occupation from its proponents: the insurgency is in its last throes;
we are turning the corner. Why do you still believe these people?
have come before you to ask that you consider the cost in human life of
this conflict so far. We are also here to tell you that we will not
stand for this corruption of our democracy any longer. We the people
are in the streets. We the people are fed up. We the people are ready
to rise up and take back our democracy.
â€“ The Empowered Patriots
that, Kokesh and the color guard attempted to go over the police
barricade, only to be quickly arrested. More IVAW member followed his
steps, meeting the same fate. Then, VFP members and people all along
the length of the barricade began climbing over it and some were able
to begin walking up the main stairs before the increasingly busy police
caught up with them. Some of the arrestees refused to walk after being
handcuffed so police carried them bodily up many marble steps to a
portico off the main entrance.
Before long the number of those
arrested reached 200. Everyone was cuffed and instructed to sit or
kneel down. As an indication of the spirit that would be frequently
displayed while they were held 14 hours for â€œprocessing,â€ several
veterans joined by others, rose to their feet, chanting, â€œStand Against
the War. Stand Against the War.â€
The long wait in line alongside
the Capitol Building to get â€œprocessedâ€ was exceeded several times over
by the seemingly-interminable time spent sitting on buses, then waiting
expectantly for the processing to get underway in a serious fashion so
people could regain their liberty. Conditions, in addition to the pain
of being handcuffed behind oneâ€™s back, were difficult in the holding
area. This, together with the time dragging on, prompted several
activists to chafe at their detention and lead a number of
well-supported chants and jeers loudly directed at the police â€” none of
which prevented several serious conversations between detainees and
police about the war and occupation in Iraq.
Three oâ€™clock in
the morning and then five oâ€™clock came and went. Eventually the police,
as some more experienced activists contended, decided to break the
logjam and assigned more of their number to move people through the
â€œprocessingâ€ at a reasonable speed. â€œThey want to make us as
uncomfortable as possible, to discourage us from doing anything like
this again,â€ he said.
As the number waiting to be processed
slowly dwindled, Keen Bahtt, a recent college grad from New York, said
the lack of water for most of the detention period, and the lack of
food for nearly all of it, caused him to become anxious for the health
of two elderly detainees. â€œNurse Ratched,â€ as he called the matronly
female police captain in charge, claimed the delays were caused
primarily by the NCIC computer being overwhelmed, and an overly complex
Tentative dawn sunlight marked a new day.
Eventually, it became strong enough to warm the last few demonstraters
walking out the door to their freedom. And the bold tactics of the
previous day gave reason for some of them to think that perhaps a new
day was dawning for the peace movement as well.
participant in Washington demonstrations, Rick Rusch, from Fremont,
Ohio captured that hope as well as anyone. The Army veteran said, â€œThis
is what I was hoping to do. Iâ€™m glad to see us heat things up.â€
is a member of Veterans For Peace
and a writer from Toledo,
Ohio. He can be reached at:
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