We can’t live with endless war

December 4, 2009

Barack Obama's decision to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan sparked spirited responses in dozens of cities the day of and after his televised address. Activists in some 75 cities are expected to hold protests against Obama's troop surge on December 5 and 6.

In Highland Falls, N.Y., outside the U.S. military academy at West Point where Obama spoke, 300 antiwar activists gathered to listen to speakers, and then marched on the main gate that handles all traffic into West Point. The crowd chanted, "Thirty thousand more, what the hell for!" Six people were arrested for sitting down at the gate to block traffic.

Matthis Chiroux, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, was one of the six. Here he explains what it meant to stand outside West Point as a president who many hoped would bring peace delivered a speech about sending more troops to war.

SO IT'S come to this. Obama's gotta wage his war, and I gotta sit in the street.

It's not that I like blocking traffic or getting arrested or dealing with the fallout when I could be reading a book. It's that I can't live with endless war, and I must end it or surely die. I'm not leaving this country. This is my mess, so help me, and I'll scrub it 'til my fingers bleed. I will not compromise with genocide. I will not run from those behind it.

Endless war is the promise of our time, signed in blood and sealed with death's own kiss. Its stench hangs around us, heavy smog. While I dare not breathe for fear of intoxication, I cannot hold much longer. This is the American nightmare, and it's shattering my heart like glass.

As I stepped to the microphone outside West Point Military Academy on Tuesday, all I wanted was to go home, honestly. "Good lord, don't let me cry in front of these people," I thought. Why must I play out this misery for all to see? Obama's only doing exactly what he said he'd do, but still, I'm heartbroken. I can't go on like this.

IVAW member Matthis Chiroux is arrested outside West Point where Barack Obama spoke on Afghanistan
IVAW member Matthis Chiroux is arrested outside West Point where Barack Obama spoke on Afghanistan

I've been a mess. When I try to imagine the future of this country, I see nothing. I have no faith that good always triumphs anymore. I think where there's a will to change there's a way to subvert it. I taste the world I am to inherit, and it makes me sick to my stomach.

BUT AS I admitted to the crowd my feelings of hopelessness and despondency, I realized once again, that I am not alone. People stared into my eyes with equally heavy brows and clenching teeth. When they came close, I saw tears in their eyes as well, and they seemed thankful to see them in mine.

Our suffering is one. We are the disenfranchised. In our lives, our jobs, our politics; we have been denigrated to utter impotence. People are not meant to live this way, and we cry out in one voice through history for liberation. Again and again, we've had our voices ignored and our mutual bonds dissolved by paranoia and fury.

But I couldn't let him get away with it. They think his slick speeches and skin color will keep the left at home. Someone had to go down for this, even if it was me.

We marched to the installation gate where a line of cops and troops were waiting. When we sat down in front of the barricades, they didn't seem all that concerned. Young and old alike joined us on the pavement. I was left awestruck by the singular dedication of the burgeoning crowd to ending our global war of lies and terror.

For 30 minutes, the hundreds of us shouted down the full winter moon. We chanted our opposition to escalation. We lamented the change we were promised and denied. The message was loud and in no unmistakable terms: Obama, this is the death of your presidency!

When we moved into the traffic lane after he started his speech, I felt a great warmth from within for the first time in weeks. While through my head streamed images of Satyagrahas past, my heart pounded reassurance, for it knew I was there for a reason.

This government refuses to respond to the needs and demands of its people. It's come to this. I refuse to be ignored. I pledge to be peacefully ungovernable.

The police carried my crutches while I limped to the car in handcuffs. A sense of satisfaction settled in as I waited in the back and counted those who'd be joining me "downtown." Six of us in total. We'd done it. At least to us, Obama had not gotten away with it.

Not an hour later, we were released. The officers who I dealt with were beyond respectful to us and our cause. While I didn't make any friends, I didn't find any enemies. At some point during the evening, I cut my finger on the pavement, but beyond that, we walked away with little more than disorderly conduct charges and a notice to appear on December 15 at 6:30 p.m. at the Town Court at 254 Main St., Highland Falls, New York. (Come join us!)

As we left the station, I was thrilled to see a sidewalk full of activists waiting, and to find a prominent lawyer in town already representing us. While Obama had shattered our dreams of peace, we felt we'd won the day. Even with the impending escalation, we found the strength to joyously declare the birth of a new peace movement!

The government won this round. Thirty thousand more troops is a clear loss for us and, more importantly, the people of Afghanistan. But from what I saw, we are ready to rededicate ourselves to unwavering resistance from within. In the words of our former dictator, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...see, you can't get fooled again."

Obama is a war president, and we are a peace movement. As long as we're moving, Obama, and you refuse to be governed, we'll refuse to be governed. Your racist wars will end, and this world will know peace in our lifetimes. Until that day, rest assured that we will be your insurgency!

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