New day in the antiwar movement?
By Mike Ferner
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Sep 18, 2007, 01:33
demonstrations against the war in Iraq have been larger, but the one that
happened in Washington, D.C., this past Saturday was significant in another way
because of a very different feel about it.
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
"marshalls" 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.
sign visible in enormous block letters invited everyone to, "Stand with
Maine. End this War," another proclaimed, "Funding the War is Killing
the Troops." An updated version of a chant not heard since Richard Nixon
occupied the White House echoed, "Bush. Pull Out. Like Your Father Should
Have." Not far behind the veterans stood Santa Claus in full regalia on
10-foot stilts holding a sign that read, "Troops Home Before Christmas."
sight, never before seen in a protest march nor certainly any parade in the
nation, was the IVAW "color guard." Geoff Millard, president, D.C.
Chapter of IVAW, dressed in full desert camouflage barked, "IVAW. Fall in.
Columns of four." Immediately, to the front of the rows of veterans
marched seven of their number, each holding erect a different flag.
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 -- one for Halliburton Corp., Bechtel Corp., Lockheed-Martin
Corp., Blackwatch Corp., CACI Corp., and Dyncorp Corp -- 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 Iraq.
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. "Who Are We?" "IRAQ VETERANS." "Whatta We
Say?" "WAR IS NOT A GAME!" A platoon of America'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 -- proficient in every
skill needed to run the world's most powerful military, marched confidently
down the main street of their nation's capital, chanting "Troops Out Now.
Iraq for Iraqis" and "No Justice, No Peace. U.S. Out of the Middle
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, which swears them to protect
and defend the U.S. Constitution against "all enemies, foreign and domestic."
He asked the crowds on the sidewalks to consider what they would do "when
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!"
his comrades falling quiet and raising their fists high in the air in salute,
the former Military Secret Security sergeant who guarded General Petraeus
"and all those other bastards," said, "We walk in silence for
our brothers and sisters who died for a lie. We didn't join the military to
become slaves to the military-industrial complex. We joined to serve our
later, the IVAW's confident message came under attack as their front rank
approached a thousand or so angry, screaming people calling themselves "A
Gathering of Eagles," occupying three blocks of sidewalk reserved for them
by police. Their snarled taunts and invective were quickly drowned when the
vets bellowed in unison, "Support the Troops. WE ARE THE TROOPS!"
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,
"Column, HALT! Left FACE!" 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
route, the marchers were treated to a vista possible only in Washington,
D.C., 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. When an air raid siren blew the signal, about a
thousand people, led by the IVAW and VFP, "died" 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 "military-industrial complex."
Ike droned on, photographers snapped pictures of uniformed U.S. soldiers lying
"dead" on the steps of their Capitol. One of the most popular of the
day was the image of an upside-down U.S. flag standing in stark contrast to the
white, stately Capitol. Tension could be felt in the air.
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.
have just heard the testimony of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker.
General Casey was replaced by General Petraeus because he would not support the
President�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
that, Kokesh and the color guard attempted to go over the police barricade,
only to be quickly arrested. More IVAW member followed in 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.
long the number of those arrested reached 200. Every one 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 "processing,"
several veterans, joined by others, rose to their feet, chanting, "Stand
Against the War. Stand Against the War."
long wait in line alongside the Capitol to get "processed" 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 one'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 -- none of which prevented several serious conversations
between detainees and police about the war and occupation in Iraq.
o'clock in the morning and then five o'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
"processing" at a reasonable speed. "They want to make us as
uncomfortable as possible, to discourage us from doing anything like this
again," he said.
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. "Nurse Ratched," 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
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.
first-time participant in Washington demonstrations, Rick Rusch, from Fremont,
Ohio captured that hope as well as anyone. The Army veteran said, "This is
what I was hoping to do. I'm glad to see us heat things up."
Ferner is a member of Veterans For Peace and a writer from Toledo, Ohio.
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