Activists tell Obama “No you can’t!”

December 18, 2009

WASHINGTON--Antiwar activists assembled in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, on December 12 to protest Barack Obama's escalation of the war on Afghanistan and his Nobel Peace Prize speech in Oslo about waging a "just war."

The call for the protest, which was put out by activists from Maine and Washington, demanded an end to the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops, and an end to drone attacks and covert military operations in Pakistan. The End U.S Wars web site states, "If President Obama does not meet these demands, we promise intensified opposition with antiwar candidates prepared to defeat his war policy."

The "No you can't!" rally attracted a crowd of several hundred activists, veterans and students. The event was organized in less than three weeks, with the knowledge that there wasn't enough time to build a large demonstration. Nevertheless, organizers thought it was important to make a public response.

Asked to comment about the small size of the rally, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Chris Hedges, who spoke at the rally, told the OpEdNews Web site, "A lot of this was about doing something rather than doing nothing, and attempting to influence events because the Democratic Party has betrayed us."

Among the antiwar politicians who spoke at the rally were Rep. Dennis Kucinich, former Rep. Cynthia McKinney, former Sen. Mike Gravel and third party candidate Ralph Nader. Four-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, Kathy Kelly, asked the crowd to recognize the choices ahead, and let our leaders know that we won't tolerate their warmongering any longer.

In his speech, Kucinich said, "This coming week, Congress will fold in unemployment compensation into a bill which will provide $130 billion to keep the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq going. The message is clear: we have money for war, but not for jobs, we have money for war, but not for peace." He urged participants to take to our message to the town halls, union halls, Congressional offices and the streets.

The most impassioned speech was from Debra Sweet of World Can't Wait. "We should never moderate what our movement says based on what we think Congress wants to hear or does not want to hear," Sweet said. "Let them be forced to listen to us, by the soundness of our arguments, by our moral high ground, by our standing and by our firm determination to be in the streets."

The discussion among some of the participants at the rally focused on what activists are beginning to hear in their communities--that people are feeling duped by Obama. They thought they were voting for peace and prosperity, and they are getting angrier every day as the American Dream is drowned in debt from endless wars. In Maine, there is a small movement among Democrats to unenroll from their party. This may provide an opening for the inclusion of third party candidates in the debate.

One highlight of antiwar activities during the weekend was a teach-in about Afghanistan at the activist hangout Busboys and Poets. We viewed Robert Greenwald's film Rethinking Afghanistan and watched a documentary short by Ralph Lopez, which was followed by a discussion.

This rally was one of the first antiwar demonstrations during the Obama presidency, and it signaled that there will be consequences for both Congress and the president if they continue the wars and keep enriching the military-industrial complex, while bankrupting our country. We will see more local actions around the country, including sit-ins in congressional offices and Afghanistan teach-ins, and activists are planning for national mobilizations to Washington in March.

"We will not give up, and we will not go away," Cynthia McKinney said in her speech. "We are not so demoralized that we can't see the truth--we know that lies are not truth; ignorance is not strength, and war is not peace."

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