Protesters in Rome and in six U.S. cities say NO to “war as usual”
On March 19th, 2010, the seventh anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, USC4P&J organized a sit-in outside the Italian Parliament in Piazza Montecitorio, together with several Italian anti-war groups and two Italian political parties, to call for a withdrawal of all occupying troops from Afghanistan and Iraq as well as an end to all other illegal military occupations in the world, particularly the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories.
The sit-in was held in solidarity with similar “Troops Home Now!” demonstrations taking place the following day, March 20th, in Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and elsewhere in the U.S. These events marked what many activists felt to be a long-overdue revival of the peace movement, lulled into months of apathy by President Obama's promise of a radical change in foreign policy.
The Rome demonstrators (just as, the following day, their counterparts in Washington, D.C) stood beside ‘coffins' symbolizing the senseless killing of soldiers and civilians in the various war zones, and held signs giving the statistics of the casualties. Other signs documented the skyrocketing public debt in the U.S. and in Italy due to war.
Speakers from USC4P&J and the Italian groups called for an end to Israeli ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, plus an end to the siege of Gaza and to the “hidden wars” in Kosovo and in Turkish Kurdistan (a group of Kurdish activists were present with their colorful flags). Thanks to a VOIP connection and the amplification system furnished by a local radio station, the crowd of some eighty protesters heard a brief conversation with Stephanie Westbrook, one of our group's co-founders, who spoke from the John Yoo protest going on in Charlottesville, Va., and a longer conversation with Giorgio Riva, head of a support group for the recently-incarcerated British corporal, Joe Glenton, the first soldier in Europe to refuse to serve in Afghanistan because he judged the war unjust (www.refusingtokill.net).
Though somewhat sparsely attended, the sit-in was eye-catching and effective. Hundreds of bilingual flyers were handed out and there was a high degree of collaboration with the various Italian activist groups in getting our message across. Indeed, the groups have already asked us to schedule a meeting after Easter to plan a follow-up event.
In the U.S., the march on the Capitol boasted a large turnout. Some 10,000 protesters converged on the White House in the biggest peace demonstration since the announcement of the escalation of the Afghanistan war. Contemporaneous demonstrations in San Francisco and Los Angeles drew 5,000 and 3,000 people respectively. One of the distinctive (and very positive) features of these events was the large turnout from high school students, college students and other young people, including those in the armed forces. The call to protest managed to mobilize a new generation of U.S. activists!
The protests in Washington, D.C., and the West Coast received coverage in the main newspapers of the three cities where they took place. Other newspapers across the country, however, reported either nothing or an AP article which minimized the protests. It played down figures for the larger turnouts and played up the small turnout for the New York sit-in, which was organized at the last moment. In addition many newspapers found space for another AP article on the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, which described a “lack of public interest” in the wars nowadays and a sharp drop in the number of anti-war protesters. The article mentioned the demonstration in downtown Milwaukee, obviously minuscule, but failed to mention the larger marches elsewhere. All this clearly intended to “massage” the facts and portray peace activism as a movement on the wane.
Even more evidently manipulative was the behavior of officials in the cities where protests took place. In Washington, D.C., the Department of Public Works ordered the posters announcing the forthcoming march to be taken down. Since peace groups have few funds for billboards or media advertisements, posters are their principal means of communication and the actions of city officials clearly served to lessen public awareness. In Los Angeles and the Bay Area, police arrested activists for putting up posters outside of paid billboard spaces, charging them with a felony offense and releasing them only on incredibly high bail of $20,000. In San Francisco, the park authorities made activists pay a $12,000 fee to use a public park which, up to then, had been used freely for public events, including demonstrations.
Not to be discouraged, the U.S. peace activists went ahead anyway and held several very successful and well-attended protests.
USC4P&J therefore considers March 20th an important step forward in re-launching the anti-war movement. It is vital that we continue to build on this momentum in the months ahead. We will be counting on you to become more involved in future actions and to speak out against the brutality and senselessness of war – as well as the huge cost, both financially and in human life and dignity.
It is urgent to do so NOW. With the election of Barak Obama, the military-industrial complex has not suddenly reconverted into a green-industrial complex. Recent newspaper reports have given activists reason to worry even more about the Obama administration's foreign policy intentions – in particular the hints that withdrawal from Iraq might be only partial (garrisons of U.S. troops would remain in the Iraqi countryside) and that the programmed withdrawal from Afghanistan could in fact take as long as ten years to complete.
“We cannot accept that people get used to the idea of ‘permanent, preventive wars' and ‘war as a way of procuring resources'”, said one of the bi-lingual handouts distributed at the Rome sit-in. “But if the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq continues to drag on, that is exactly what will happen. This apathy is extremely dangerous because if people get used to ‘war as usual', nothing will stop a future administration from launching other ‘preventive' wars, for example, against Iran, Sudan, Yemen, even Venezuela. That is why we must fight instead – starting NOW – for preventive peace.”
Anna, Becky and Patrick
Photos of the March 19th demonstration in Rome
Photos of the March 20th demonstration in Washington, D.C.
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