Memorial Day antiwar protests

By Eric Ruder

Combat boots set out as a tribute at the Chicago antiwar Memorial Day event (Eric Ruder | SW)Combat boots set out as a tribute at the Chicago antiwar Memorial Day event (Eric Ruder | SW)

CHICAGO--More than 200 veterans, antiwar and immigrant rights activists and other supporters gathered downtown at the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial to honor the fallen and call for an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Juan Torres and Gloria Barrios spoke to the crowd, explaining that each had lost a child in similar circumstances. Torres' son was killed at U.S. base in Bagram, Afghanistan, and Barrios' daughter died at a base in Texas.

Barrios' powerful testimony moved many to tears as she explained that she was trying to raise the funds necessary to exhume her daughter's body in order to uncover the truth about the circumstances that led to her death.

"As a veteran, who has been speaking openly and publicly against the occupation of Iraq and against the 'global war on terror,' and all that things that go along with that, for about two years now, I'm here today to continue my service to my country by speaking out against our policymakers," explained Adam Navarro, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. "This current administration is using the armed forces as an apparatus to serve its own interests--both political and economic."

Ray Parrish, a GI rights counselor and member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, addressed the crisis facing current and former military personnel in need of health care.

"What makes this Memorial Day different from the previous ones is that we finally have the official statistics showing that the number of suicides among veterans is astonishing--now at 1,000 attempts a month," said Ray in an interview.

"And the number of successful suicides among Iraq and Afghan veterans is equaling the number of deaths in combat. We are not talking about the elephant standing in the middle of the room. What we are dealing with is the feelings of a person after they've realized they've taken the life of another human being and they've lost the life of their best buddy in a war that never should have been fought."

-- In Rochester, N.Y., groups from the progressive community participated in what is becoming a Memorial Day tradition here. Activists from various groups formed a peace contingent as part of the official Memorial day parade.

Around 100 people marched in the contingent, including members of Military Families Speak Out, Rochester Against War, the National Organization for Women, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), Unitarian Peace Advocates and the Raging Grannies.

The Raging Grannies sang antiwar songs with their PA system, and some of the younger activists started up chants, such as "What do we want? Troops home! When do we want it? Now!"

As we approached Main Street, the crowd burst into clapping and cheering, and many started chanting along. A couple people stepped from the crowd to join the contingent, and an IVAW member sought out people in uniform or those who looked like they might be military service members to talk to them about IVAW and the antiwar movement.

In past years, support took the form of clapping and thumbs up, but this year there was chanting and joining the contingent. This has also established a precedent that the peace contingent belongs in the Memorial Day parade and that unbridled displays of militarism are not representative of how a majority of Americans feel about the war and supporting the troops.

Brian Lenzo contributed to this article.