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Protests on the anniversary of the Iraq war
We say no to the occupation

By Lee Sustar and Eric Ruder | March 25, 2005 | Pages 1 and 5

"BRING THE troops home now!" was the message March 19 as tens of thousands of people demonstrated across the U.S. on the second anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

CAMILO MEJIA

AFTER HIS first tour in Iraq, Staff Sgt. CAMILO MEJIA became the first soldier to go public with his refusal to redeploy. He spent seven months in military confinement for his decision, and was released in mid-February. Last weekend, he attended his first antiwar protests.

WE NEED to make the connection between social injustice and the war, and how we're paying hundreds of billion of dollars to occupy Iraq, and people here at home are starving. We need a lot more unity in the peace movement, because it seems sometimes like everyone is doing their own thing.

It really all comes down to corporate greed. That's really what's causing the war, that's really what's causing discrimination, and that's really what's causing the poor to get poorer and the rich to get richer.

CINDY SHEEHAN

CINDY SHEEHAN'S son Casey was killed in action in Iraq on April 4, 2004, just three weeks after he was deployed to Iraq. Cindy is a co-founder of Gold Star Families for Peace, an antiwar organization of relatives of service members killed in action.

WE HAVE to stop this war before any other moms have to go through what I'm going through.

The insult to the soldiers who lost their lives is that they were put there in that situation to lose their lives in the first place. Just because my son is dead, why would I want one more person to be dead because of it? Not one more of our soldiers, not one more Iraqi person.

One of the main groups I hold responsible is the mainstream media--because they have abrogated the responsibility to be objective and to go out and investigate. If anybody had just come out and said in the mainstream media that there's no reason for this war, my son might be alive. Since the invasion, I think it's getting worse. The mainstream media has become a propaganda tool for the administration.

Sometimes, I just feel like bashing my head against the wall until I'm unconscious, but I can't, because you've got to keep fighting. The stakes are too high.

The biggest demonstration came in San Francisco, where 15,000 people marched through the Mission District. International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 shut down the Bay Area docks with a stop-work meeting timed to support the protest.

The "Military Out of Our Schools" contingent of 350 people in the San Francisco protest highlighted the counter-recruitment activism that has leaped ahead around the country in recent weeks--by pointing out how working people with little or no prospect of decent jobs submit to the military's economic draft and become cannon fodder for the U.S. drive to dominate the Middle East.

Counter-recruitment was also a major theme of protests in New York City, where hundreds participated in civil disobedience to shut down armed forces recruiting centers amid larger protests. Hadas Thier and Justino Rodriguez, two students recently arrested at the City College of New York for protesting recruiters at a campus career fair, were among the speakers at the rally of 10,000 in Central Park.

The main New York protest began with a march through Spanish Harlem to highlight the costs of the war at home. "We have a responsibility to be here marching. \We are people who are directly affected by the war and the occupation of the U.S. in foreign countries," said one of the rally speakers, Claudia de la Cruz, of the Dominican Women's Development Center and the San Romero de las Américas church. "We want to let the Bush administration know that we resist the war and want the U.S. troops to come back. Rather than making war in other countries, the administration should be concerned with education, unemployment, and the health care system."

The horrible suffering of the Iraqi people was a central focus as well.

At the protest in Fayetteville, N.C.--home of Fort Bragg, one of the U.S. Army's biggest bases--Iraq veteran Kelly Dougherty told the crowd of the death and misery that the U.S. invasion and occupation has caused. "We came, and we were destroying their cities, running over their children with our vehicles," Dougherty, a member of the Colorado Army National Guard, later said in an interview.

Dougherty's military police unit was often ordered to destroy disabled trucks full of fuel or other supplies. "We were destroying right in front of their faces the very things that they needed to survive," she said. "The way that I see the situation, we do have a responsibility to the Iraqi people, but we can't do something good for the Iraqi people when the main problem they're facing is our presence as an occupying army.

"That's why I feel that the responsible thing to do is to withdraw the troops. That's not abandoning the Iraqi people. I'm not saying we shouldn't give them anything. I'm saying we should give them what they need--aid and assistance--but not in a military form. Many people feel that the Iraqi people would go crazy without us, and not be able to function. But Iraq is the cradle of civilization. They're educated people just like us, and they're capable if given the opportunity and the resources."

Military resister Camilo Mejía, recently freed after nearly a year in jail for refusing to return to Iraq with his unit, also spoke to the rally in Fayetteville, which drew about 3,500 protesters. "The Iraqi elections weren't about democracy, but about a first step towards U.S. credibility in Iraq," he told Socialist Worker. "I don't think you can have a true democracy unless it comes from within, and it's not coming from within as long as you have an occupation."

In other parts of the country, protesters faced police restrictions on the right to protest.

In Chicago, riot police threatened to arrest anyone who challenged the city's ban on a gathering point for a march down Michigan Avenue, where many upscale retail stores are located. Nevertheless, protesters continued by alternate routes--and some 3,000 people rallied in Federal Plaza.

In Seattle, an estimated 5,000 people demonstrated in the wind and rain. For the first time since the 1970s, a labor contingent joined an antiwar protest, as 200 union members organized a feeder march co-sponsored by the King County Labor Council and Jobs with Justice. The day before, students at Seattle Central Community College--scene of the January 20 walkout against the war and confrontation with military recruiters--held a rally of 100 students.

Another 3,000 rallied in Boston, and 300 protesters blocked streets at the rally's end in defiance of police orders. Smaller cities also saw spirited protests. In Hartford, Conn., more than 1,000 people turned out for a rally.

The need for more antiwar activism was the theme of many rallies around the U.S. "This rally isn't going to stop the war," historian Howard Zinn told the New York rally. "It's not enough. We need a national movement big enough to threaten the government. During Vietnam, the government got scared that they couldn't carry out war because of resistance. During civil rights movement in South, they got worried about the riots."

"The U.S. has been occupying Iraq for two years," Zinn continued. "It has brought nothing but death and destruction. You can't bring liberation and democracy with napalm. War is terrorism. During Vietnam, soldiers refused to fight, students resisted--the military couldn't get people into ROTC. This is how the war was ended."

Noah Centenero, Vicky Jambor, Kate Johnson, Peter LoRe, Kolya Ludwig, Sarah Macaraeg, Keith Rosenthal, Alex Schulz and Tamar Szmuilowicz contributed to this report.

Protests around the globe

OPPONENTS OF the U.S.-led war on Iraq spoke out against the occupation across the globe.

The largest demonstration came in London, where an estimated 100,000 turned out. On a march to Trafalgar Square, two former British soldiers placed a cardboard coffin bearing the words "100,000 dead" outside the U.S. embassy.

Thousands more took to the streets in Madrid, Barcelona, Istanbul, Athens, Oslo, Warsaw, Tokyo and cities across Australia.

In Rome, more than 20,000 marched, despite the fact that the country's large left-wing parties and trade union federations failed to endorse the demonstration due to upcoming parliamentary elections. Still, according to Italian socialist Yurii Colombo, "Many students and workers from alternative unions and members of left groups arrived in the morning by bus and trains." The protesters were people "who don't trust correctness of the Iraq's election, who continue to support the Iraqi resistance...and who don't believe in the possible 'humanitarian' role of the United Nations in Iraq's future," Colombo said.

Activists meet for conferences

ANTIWAR ACTIVISTS held three organizing conferences in Fayetteville, N.C., on March 20, the day after thousands of people took to the streets to protest the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

About 50 people attended the founding convention of Military Families Speak Out (MFSO). The organization, which is made up of relatives of people currently serving in the U.S. military, has grown from two families to more than 2,000 in a little more than two years. Participants came together to discuss how to build on the success of antiwar resolutions passed by 49 Vermont cities and towns March 1. MFSO leaders also encouraged the building of local chapters to draw in more families and further develop the groups' grassroots influence.

About 30 members of Iraq Veterans Against the War attended the protest in Fayetteville, and 20 stayed for the group's founding meeting. In workshops, members and supporters addressed subjects such as applying for conscientious objector status, counter-recruitment strategies, speaking to the public and the media, dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, and fighting for benefits.

Additionally, a Southern organizers' conference brought together about 50 activists from across the South to discuss strategy, racism and the common challenges facing activists in the region.

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