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Bring the troops home--now!

March 31, 2006 | Page 11

IN THE wake of the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, activists across the country called for an end to the war and occupation with a number of events.

-- In New York City, musicians, comedians, actors and activists turned out March 20 for the first stop on the "Bring 'em Home Now" concert tour benefiting Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW).

Thousands packed the Hammerstein Ballroom to listen to speeches by Cindy Sheehan, Margaret Cho, Susan Sarandon, Chuck D and Anthony Arnove--interspersed with music from Michael Stipe, Rufus Wainwright, Bright Eyes, Peaches and Fischerspooner.

Bright Eyes got the crowd singing along to "When the President Talks to God," and Rufus Wainwright silenced the hall with his rendition of socialist Yip Harburg's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

The most moving speech of the night was made by an Iraq veteran who took on the congressional debates around possible withdrawal. "There is no such thing as an exit strategy," said the veteran. "Leaving Iraq is an executive order, and Bush needs to give it immediately--while on his way to jail."

Cindy Sheehan used the opportunity to get thousands chanting, "Violence and occupation will never bring liberation. That's bullshit, get off it, this war is for profit!"

Days later, on March 25, some 300 people turned out for the inspiring launch of Anthony Arnove's new book, Iraq: The Logic Of Withdrawal, at the Quaker Meeting House in New York City. Speakers included Arnove, Amy Goodman of DemocracyNow!, Elizabeth Wrigley-Field of the Campus Antiwar Network, Jose Vasquez and Geoffrey Millard from IVAW, and radical historian Howard Zinn, who authored the book's foreword and afterward.

Millard made a passionate appeal to the crowd to take action by quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal," said Millard. "I'm here to tell you--that time has come for Iraq."

Arnove's uncompromising case for full and immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops was met with a standing ovation from the crowd. In contrast to Bush's claim that the U.S. military is a force for democracy, Arnove explained that "occupation is the negation of democracy" and that the claim of democratization "is a pretext for conquest."

"Democracy is not 'checks and balances,'" Howard Zinn told the crowd. "When the president goes to war, Congress does not check him. Democracy is people standing up, organizing, protesting. That is when democracy comes alive."

Counter-recruitment activists have stepped up organizing at public high schools throughout New York City to encourage parents attending open school night to exercise their right to "opt out" of having students' private information handed over to the military.

On March 23, activists from the Queens Antiwar Committee, UFTers to Stop the War, Educators to Stop the War, Brooklyn Parents for Peace, Prospect Lefferts Voices for Peace and others involved in the United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) "Peace Zone NYC" campaign traveled to high schools throughout Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx where military recruiters frequently target students--particularly low-income and minority students.

Many parents who took the leaflet expressed thanks to activists for providing them with the information. As one parent said to her child after receiving the leaflet, "I don't want [the military] for you."

On March 21, around 100 people, mostly students, turned out for a March 21 panel at Hunter College organized by Code Pink about the conditions facing women in U.S.-occupied Iraq.

Iraqi doctor Entisar Mohammad Ariabi talked about the decimation of the health care system--including the lack of basic medical necessities, the bombing of hospitals and the huge impact on women. "Now, even me working in the medical field, I feel like I participate in the killing of innocent people," said Dr. Ariabi of how the lack of medical supplies to treat basic illness makes her work impossible.

Asli Bari, a civil and immigrant rights lawyer, presented the historical context of the occupation--making the argument that the U.S. is responsible for the collapse of secularism and a subsequent roll-back of women's rights and that the only hope for women in Iraq is U.S. withdrawal.

Medea Benjamin explained that the average household family will pay $19,000 for a war that only benefits the rich.

-- In Chicago, on March 25, a small city park across the street from Democratic Rep. Rahm Emmanuel's office was transformed into "Camp Bring 'Em Home" by a coalition of local antiwar groups.

Crosses, shoes and boots representing the more than 2,300 U.S. soldiers and more than 100,000 Iraqis killed in the war were placed at Emmanuel's door throughout the week of activity at the camp. Vigils were held each afternoon, and activists planned to end the week with an April 1 rally.

Activists collected signatures on an antiwar petition, encouraged passing vehicles to honk for peace and handed out antiwar literature.

One motorist who slowed to take in the scene noticed the shoes and boots lined up along the sidewalks. He stopped, got out of his car, took off his shoes and handed them over. "I'm going to give you my shoes," he said, explaining that his nephew is currently serving in Iraq and that he wants him home.

Megan Behrent, Loretta Capeheart, David Florey and Leia Petty contributed to this report.

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