An opposition to Obama’s war

December 7, 2009

Elizabeth Schulte rounds up emergency demonstrations around the country in response to the Obama administration's latest escalation of the U.S. war on Afghanistan.

ANTIWAR ACTIVISTS in dozens of cities responded with protests to President Barack Obama's speech December 1 announcing that the U.S. will send 30,000 more troops to fight in Afghanistan.

A few of the protests were in the hundreds, and many were gatherings of dozens of activists, but they had a common angry message: Obama is the war president now. After months of inactivity for antiwar forces, the response to the speech marked what many see as a new beginning for antiwar activism--involving many former Obama supporters who now express disillusionment with the president.

On the night of the speech itself, as Obama spoke at the U.S. military academy at West Point in Highland Falls, N.Y., 250 antiwar activists gathered at Veterans Park. After a rally, the demonstrators marched down West Point Highway to the academy's main gate, chanting, "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, who was one of six protesters arrested, wrote after the protest, "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."

Marching in Minneapolis against the Afghanistan war
Marching in Minneapolis against the Afghanistan war (Tony Webster)

He concluded, "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."

In Chicago, some 300 people from dozens of organizations gathered at Federal Plaza downtown on the evening after Obama's speech to show their opposition to the troop surge in Afghanistan, and the war itself.

"I'll be here because in memory of my son I fight for peace," said Juan Torres, a member of Gold Star Families for Peace, whose son died in Afghanistan. "After my son died, I don't want to see any more families suffer like my family."

Several speakers criticized Obama for not providing the "change" many thought he would, and talked about the organizing that needs to be done to rebuild the antiwar movement. Protesters took to the busy streets of Chicago, and marched for miles, including the entire Magnificent Mile shopping district of Chicago, and past many who stopped their ice skating in Millennium Park to watch.

A smaller follow-up rally three days later turned out about 175 people to a shorter rally and march downtown.

While the size of this rally was larger than the last Chicago protest of the Afghanistan war, activists will need to strategize about how to bring new people who are seeing that Obama isn't measuring up to his campaign promises into the movement against war.

Also that weekend in Chicago, the national assembly of U.S. Labor Against War met and approved a resolution unambiguously calling for an end to the U.S. war in Afghanistan. In wide-ranging discussions, nearly 50 representatives of labor bodies, ranging from local ad hoc committees to central labor councils and state bodies, also restated their call for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Several international guests were on hand, including trade unionists from Iraq, Venezuela and Pakistan.

In Portland, Ore., 150 activists gathered during rush hour on December 2 in front of the federal building downtown to protest Obama's troop surge in Afghanistan.

Many activist groups were represented at the emergency demonstration and press conference, including the Portland Peaceful Response Coalition, PDX Peace, Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights (SUPER), Veterans for Peace, Code Pink and the International Socialist Organization. Many of the protesters were affiliated with a particular group, but a large number of people were new to activism, many attending their first protest.

Activists carried signs and banners reading "Nobel WHAT Prize?" and "No more troops!" attracting waves and honks from rush hour traffic. In addition, protesters chanted, "It's not what we voted for. We don't want your stinking war!" and "Hey hey, ho ho, Obama's war has got to go!"

Although many activists felt betrayed by Obama's war mongering, the general mood at the demonstration was the sense that we must and can do something now. As one picket sign read, "That's it, the honeymoon is over!" This protest was for many a first step, and for others a first step toward recovering a fighting antiwar movement.

In Los Angeles, activists responded to the Afghanistan war escalation by staging a protest outside of the Westwood Federal Building. The crowd of about 150 people were met with support by drivers who honked their horns they passed by. New signs emerged at this demonstration, including "Obama: War President." Chants included, "Hey, Obama, yes we can! Troops out of Afghanistan!" and "Hey hey, ho ho, the occupation's got to go!"

The crowd consisted mostly of individuals who were moved to protest by Obama's pro-war speech the previous night, but also included organizations such as Code Pink, Progressive Democrats of America, the International Socialist Organization and the ANSWER Coalition.

In New York City, several groups held protests against Obama's announcement at the Times Square Recruiting Station and at Union Square. In Times Square, antiwar groups ranging from Troops Out Now to United for Peace and Justice organized demonstrations, drawing around 150 people. A couple of dozen students also mobilized at Union Square demanding an immediate end to the occupation of Afghanistan.

As many as 300 protesters came out in Boston, and in San Francisco, 200 rallied and marched as part of an emergency protest. About 100 turned out at the White House in Washington, D.C., to protest the war in Afghanistan. In Providence, R.I., 75 protested; in New Haven, Conn., 75; and in Hartford, 50. In Atlanta, 30 people showed their opposition to the war.

In Rochester, N.Y., 170 people turned out to protest the war, more than half of them students. Chants included, "Money for jobs and the poor. We don't want your fucking war" and "Hey Obama, change your plans, U.S. out of Afghanistan."

About 150 people protested in New York's capital of Albany. In Ithaca, N.Y., about 50 people gathered on Green Street on December 1 to oppose the war on Afghanistan. One veteran antiwar activist said Obama seemed just as bad as Bush was, and that it was now "up to us" to end the war. An Iraq war veteran said that he saw with his own eyes how civilians were being made to pay the price. A dozen Ithacans also demonstrated against the war on November 27 and 28, which helped build up for the Tuesday demonstration.

In Buffalo, N.Y., the Western New York Peace Center organized a caravan yesterday through west, east and north Buffalo neighborhoods--about 15-20 cars with signs and balloons. In Syracuse, N.Y., two dozen peace activists who gathered in front of the federal building.

Activists are looking to how they can begin building a broader opposition to the Afghanistan war locally, with meetings and teach-ins, as well as looking to national mobilizations such as a call for a March 20 demonstration in Washington, D.C., against occupation.

Kurt Krueger, Brian Lenzo, Becca Lewis, Jennifer Roesch, Tristan Sloughter, Ashley Smith and Lee Sustar contributed to this article.

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