Nonviolent Activist, March-April 2006
U.S. Troops in Iraq Say End War in 2006
An overwhelming 72 percent of American troops serving in Iraq think the United States should exit the country within the next year, and more than one in four say the troops should leave immediately, a new Le Moyne College/Zogby International survey shows.
The poll, conducted in conjunction with Le Moyne College’s Center for Peace and Global Studies, showed that 29 percent of the respondents, serving in various branches of the armed forces, said the U.S. should leave Iraq “immediately,” while another 22 percent said they should leave in the next six months. Another 21 percent said troops should be out between 6 and twelve months, while 23 percent said they should stay “as long as they are needed.”
Asked why they think some Americans favor rapid U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, 37 percent of troops serving there said those Americans are unpatriotic, while 20 percent believe people back home don’t believe a continued occupation will work. Another 16 percent said they believe those favoring a quick withdrawal do so because they oppose the use of the military in a pre-emptive war, while 15 percent said they do not believe those Americans understand the need for the U.S. troops in Iraq.
The wide-ranging poll also shows that 58 percent of those serving in-country say the U.S. mission in Iraq is clear in their minds, while 42 percent said it is either somewhat or very unclear to them, that they have no understanding of it at all, or are unsure. While 85 percent said the U.S. mission is mainly “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9-11 attacks,” 77 percent said they also believe the main or a major reason for the war was “to stop Saddam from protecting al Qaeda in Iraq.”
“Ninety-three percent said that removing weapons of mass destruction is not a reason for U.S. troops being there,” said Pollster John Zogby, President and CEO of Zogby International. “Instead, that initial rationale went by the wayside and, in the minds of 68 percent of the troops, the real mission became to remove Saddam Hussein.” Just 24 percent said that “establishing a democracy that can be a model for the Arab world” was the main or a major reason for the war. Only small percentages see the mission there as securing oil supplies (11 percent) or to provide long-term bases for U.S. troops in the region (6 percent).
More than 80 percent said they did not hold a negative view of Iraqis because of insurgent attacks. About two in five see the resistance as being comprosed of discontented Sunnis with very few non-Iraqi helpers. 30 percent of troops said they think the Department of Defense has failed to provide adequate troop protections, such as body armor, munitions, and armor plating for vehicles like HumVees. 35 percent said basic civil infrastructure in Iraq, including roads, electricity, water service, and health care, has not improved over the past year.
The survey included 944 military respondents interviewed at several undisclosed locations throughout Iraq. The margin of error for the survey, conducted Jan. 18 through Feb. 14, 2006, is +/- 3.3 percentage points. To read the full report visit: www.zogby.com.
Veterans March from Mobile to New Orleans
On March 14, more than 100 veterans, hurricane survivors, and activists marched 150 miles along Highway 90—from Mobile, Alabama, to New Orleans, Louisiana—to demonstrate of the price paid for the war in Iraq. Under the slogan, “Every bomb dropped on Iraq explodes along the Gulf Coast,” marchers walked five days, bearing witness to the remaining hurricane debris and government neglect. Coordinated by Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out, and Gold Star Families for Peace, the march was modeled after the famous civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Organizers say that the march hoped to “highlight the connections between the economic and human cost of war in the Middle East and the failure of our government to respond to human needs at home, especially the needs of poor people and people of color.” They call the war on Iraq and Hurricane Katrina “twin disasters,” motivating them to bring vets and hurricane victims together and “establish ties of material solidarity between those who oppose the war abroad and the social and economic costs for working people at home.” Arriving in New Orleans on March 19, the third anniversary of the war, the march ended with a 200-person rally in Armstrong Park.
100,000 March for Immigrant Rights
In one of the biggest immigrant rights rallies in the history of the United States, hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of Chicago on Friday, March 10, to protest a bill that would step up the militancy toward those trying to enter the country. Already passed by the House of Representatives, the bill (HR 4437) would give the military and local law enforcement a larger role in stopping illegal immigration, extend the construction of a fence along the U.S-Mexico border by 700 miles, and mandate severe punishment for those who aid undocumented workers.
Organized by a citywide coalition of community, labor, and immigrant rights groups, the march began in the business district and ended in a rally at the Federal Plaza, across from the courthouse. Marchers stretched for two-and-a-half miles, stopping traffic and clogging the streets for five hours. The majority of the demonstrators were Latinos, who carried signs saying “No one is illegal” and “We are not criminals,” and chanted “Si, se puede” (yes we can) and “La raza unida nunca sera vencida” (a people united will never be defeated). The legislation, which critics say will render undocumented workers felons, will be debated by the Senate at the end of March.
U.S. Threatens Legal Action Against Guantánamo Marchers
Seven individuals from Witness Against Torture, a group protesting the denial of rights to prisoners at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, have been served papers by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The group of 24 U.S. Christians marched more than 60 miles to the Naval Base in an attempt to practice the Christian act of prisoner visitation. They camped and fasted for four days at the gate of the militarized zone while awaiting access to the base.
In a response sent through the Center for Constitutional Rights, Witness Against Torture refused to answer OFAC’s questions, maintaining that the true crime is the torture and abuse of civilian prisoners by U.S. soldiers at Guantánamo, not the violation of the travel ban on Cuba. As the United States prohibits travel to Cuba, Witness Against Torture members risk a maximum of 10 years in prison or a $250,000 fine for their actions to bring attention to U.S. practices in Guantánamo.
“There are far greater crimes at play here than Witness Against Torture’s travel logistics,” says Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which coordinates legal representation for many of the men held at the U.S. base. Upon return to the United States all members of the group openly shared that they had been to Cuba and gave their names and addresses to customs officials. Despite this high level of openness, the U.S. Treasury Department sent letters of inquiry to individuals who were not even on the trip.
Tijuana-to-San Francisco March for Peace
Fernando Suarez del Solar, whose son was killed in Iraq, and war resisters Pablo Paredes, Camilo Mejia, and Aidan Delgado, are on a 241-mile quest for peace. They started in Tijuana, Mexico, on March 12, go through Marine Corps Depot Camp Pendleton to the Cesar Chavez burial site in La Paz, CA, and end in the Mission district of San Francisco with a memorial ceremony and blood drive. Organizers point to the number of Latinos in the military (11 percent of military) and those who have died in Iraq (20 percent of those killed), and say that “it is time to show the Latino community that they have a voice and a right to fight for peace and stability.”
“We make this call not only to the Latino population but to all those who agree with our message ‘No more bloodshed in Iraq.’” Organizers also cite the acts of civil disobedience of figures such as Gandhi and Cesar Chavez and hope the march will further their legacies of nonviolent struggle. The march will pass through cities such as San Diego, Escondido, Santa Ana, Los Angeles, Rosamond, Keene (La Paz), Fresno, and San Jose. For more information: www.guerreroazteca.org
CPTers released; Fox mourned
On March 23, British and American troops found and freed three of four members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams, who were taken hostage in November of last year. The activists—Canadians James Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden, and Briton Norman Kember—were found unattended in a house in western Baghdad. While they were tied up, they appeared physically unharmed. Coalition troops discovered the location of the hostages after capturing an Iraqi who knew where they were being held.
The fourth member of the group, Tom Fox of Virginia, was found dead on March 9 in the Mansour district of Iraq. In press statements, the Christian Peacemakers Teams say they rejoice the return of the three members, but that “their gladness is made bittersweet by the fact that Tom is not alive to join in the celebration.” The group maintains that “the illegal occupation of Iraq by Multinational Forces is the root cause of the insecurity which led to this kidnapping and so much pain and suffering in Iraq.” “The occupation must end,” they demand.
From February 3 to 5, more than 2000 people gathered at American University for the sixth annual National Conference on Organized Resistance (NCOR). Co-founded by former WRL National staff person Nisha Anand while she was a student activist at AU, NCOR has blossomed into a significant event that brings together grassroots organizers from around the country, committed to a nonsectarian approach to radical change. Workshops and panels focus on a diversity of topics: from basic D.I.Y. Organizing 101 sessions to ideological analysis and visioning, and from historical review to up-to-the-moment reports from the activist frontlines. This year’s conference was especially noteworthy, as several key collectives worked to coordinate interconnected discussions designed to deepen the work of the entire movement.
Two panels on independent media and the role of media in social justice work included the NVA’s own editor, Francesca Fiorentini, and her fellow editors at Left Turn magazine. Left Turn was also responsible for pulling together perhaps the most important panel of the entire conference, “Building Our Levees,” an intensive look at the material and political situation in New Orleans with organizers from the region. Left Turn and D.C. SUSTAIN (Stop U.S. Tax Aid to Israel Now) co-founder Rami El-Amine facilitated a key session on the future of the Palestine solidarity movement, which included organizers from the International Solidarity Movement and from the radical Jewish community.
The San Francisco-based Catalyst Project, an explicitly antiracist political education center that grew out of the highly praised Challenging White Supremacy workshops, also put together a number of essential panel discussions. In co-sponsorship with WRL, Catalyst core trainer and WRL National Committee member Clare Bayard, along with WRL’s Youth and Counter-Recruitment coordinator Steve Theberge, participated in a discussion entitled “Throwing Down Against Empire: Military Veterans Speak Out on Political Strategies to End War.” In an ambitious attempt to bring their organizational trainings to a wider audience, Catalyst folks held workshops on base building, antiracism, and the need for more serious organizing in itself—proclaiming that “good ideas are not enough.” Bridging the gap between some of the youngest and some of the older participants present, the Catalyst Project was also responsible for the standing-room-only event on “Outlaws of America,” which reviewed the politics and lessons of the Weather Underground.
Capitalizing on a general anarchist leaning at NCOR, WRL NYC local activist Thomas Good helped convene a dialogue about issues of anti-authoritarianism within the mainstream antiwar coalitions. Former Washington Post columnist Coleman McCarthy gave an imaginative talk on pacifism and anarchism, which he calls “the two most misunderstood and disguised philosophies” in U.S. history; the ones, he also asserts, that are most needed during the current period. WRL NC member Larry Dansinger from Maine also presented on exploring how people can use money—their earnings, spendings, and savings—to promote justice, nonviolence, and democracy. For most participants, NCOR 2006 was an important opportunity for networking and education. As Catalyst member Amie Fishman put it, NCOR provided a great space “for reflection and evaluation of lessons learned from both past and present fights for racial and economic justice.”
Vietnam Resisters Arrested
In a show of force against military desertion and resistance, the United States is now cracking down on men who refused to fight decades ago in the Vietnam War. On March 9, Allen Abney, 56, was arrested at the Canada-Idaho border, as he tried to cross into the United States from his home in Kingsgate, B.C. Abney was held at Camp Pendleton in San Diego, where he went through basic training 38 years ago. On March 16, he was let go after receiving a less-than-honorable discharge but was not court-martialed.
A routine computer check at the border revealed an arrest warrant for Abney, who had previously crossed into the United States hundreds of times without hassle. Marine spokesperson Lt. Lawton is quoted in the Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail as saying that the Marine Corps simply wanted to adhere to military policy.
Having enlisted in the marines in 1968, Abney fled to Vancouver after receiving a weekend pass to visit Mexico. He remained in Canada, married and raised children, and became a Canadian citizen in 1977. Abney has been assisted by the War Resisters Support Campaign, a coalition of community, labor, religious, and other organizations that support U.S. soldiers who refuse to fight in Iraq and seek asylum in Canada.
In a similar incident in early January, Ernest McQueen, who left his unit in 1969 after two years of military service, was arrested in Fort Worth, TX. McQueen enlisted when he was 17 years old, but after hearing about the massacre in the village of My Lai, decided to leave. He was also discharged without disciplinary action.
Many GI rights organizers believe the resurgence of these arrests is the military’s attempt at intimidating current personnel from deserting the war in Iraq. A charge of desertion can carry up to a five-year jail sentence.
Betty Friedan, 1921-2006
Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique and founder of the National Organization for Women, who died January 28 at the age of 85, was one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. She articulated provocative questions for her own generation and those that followed about women’s place in society and role in the family—questions that remain vexingly unresolved today.
That she took up the cry for women’s rights, however, was as much a matter of timing as of genius. Born Betty Goldstein only months after the ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution that gave the women of this country the right to vote, Friedan grew up in a rising tide of expectations for women. She was an adolescent in the 1930s, which saw an unprecedented celebration of the career woman; she was a student at Smith College and during World War II, as the draft made room for women in jobs formerly reserved for men, and became a newspaper journalist. In the 1950s, she was a young homemaker in the suburbs north of New York City, as the culture suddenly demanded that women (at least those of the middle class) return to the kitchen and leave the jobs to the returning GIs.
It was that suppression of ambitions, which had been laudable only a short time before, that led Friedan to analyze the “problem that had no name,” as she described the alienation of her suburban contemporaries in The Feminine Mystique. Friedan dared to propose that creativity bounded by hearth and home was no more rewarding for women than it would be for men. Within a few short years, women across the country were marching for legal abortion, daycare, and a constitutional amendment declaring that “equality of rights under the law … not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
Some demanded more radical reconstruction of gender and gender roles. Within the pacifist, antiwar, antinuclear, and civil rights movements, women were articulating new theories of nonviolence informed by feminist perceptions—and demanding recognition as leaders. (Also worth noting in this magazine is the fact that Second Wave feminism was the first mass movement of the 20th century that did not include an armed group.)
Some of those battles were won, some not. Some of the victories have since dissolved or are dissolving under a relentless backlash; in any case, the largest part of the gains fell to white, middle-class women. And certainly the era would have given birth to a new women’s movement with or without Betty Friedan. But for better and for worse, the questions she framed helped shape that movement, and no one reading this magazine today—woman or man—can truly claim to have been untouched by Friedan’s life and work.
Judith Mahoney Pasternak
Anne Braden, 1927-2006
Prominent Southern white civil rights leader, socialist, journalist, and teacher, Anne Braden, passed away on March 6, in Louisville, KY, after being admitted to the hospital with pneumonia.
Having organized through the decades—struggling against everything from segregation to the “war on terror”—Braden dedicated her life to racial and economic justice, and nurtured younger generations of activists.
Anne Braden began working for The Louisville Times as a reporter in 1947. There she met her husband, Carl Braden. The two soon resigned from their jobs and became active in the Progressive Party and organized labor. Anne also became involved in the interracial hopsital movement that demanded an end to segregated hospitals in Louisville, and condemned lynchings with the Civil Rights Congress (CRC) in 1951.
In 1954, Anne and Carl Braden bought a home for their friends Andrew and Charlotte Wade, an African-American couple, in an all-white suburb of Louisville. As word spread about the Wades, so did the hostility. A cross was burned near the house, shots were fired into it, and finally, the home was bombed. The Bradens were indicted on charges of sedition in connection to the bombing. Carl Braden was convicted and sentenced to 15 years, but the sentence was overturned in 1956, after he had been in prison for seven months. Anne wrote about the controversy surrounding the Wade house in her book The Wall Between.
The Bradens joined the staff of the Southern Conference Educational Fund in 1957, a New Orleans-based organization formed to encourage whites to join the civil rights movement. In 1967, Anne and Carl and three other activists were arrested and again charged with sedition for protesting strip mining in Pike County, KY. A federal panel ruled Kentucky’s sedition law unconstitutional and charges were dropped.
Despite the numerous accusations and attacks, Anne continued organizing. In 1985, she helped found the National Rainbow Coalition, now the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. She received the American Civil Liberties Union’s Roger Baldwin Medal of Liberty in 1990, and taught civil rights history at the University of Louisville and at Northern Kentucky University. In September 2005, she joined the hundreds of thousands in the streets of Washington, DC, to protest the war in Iraq. Anne Braden is survived by a son, James, and a daughter, Elizabeth.
Luis Kemnitzer, 1928-2006
Luis Kemnitzer was an anarchist, railroad worker, and later, anthropology professor. He died of lung cancer and emphysema in early February. A longtime member of the War Resisters League, he was active with WRL West—marching, tabling, and discussing. As a professor at San Francisco State, Kemnitzer helped start the university’s (and other universities’) American Indian Studies Program. In 1987, he helped start one of the earliest needle exchange interventions against HIV infection, Prevention Point. Kemnitzer also won a Grammy for his contribution to the liner notes for the Harry Smith compilation of American Folk Music by the Smithsonian Collection, and was known for his eclectic collection of music. He was an outstanding cook and his cream of pear and spinach soup recipe was in the 2003 WRL cookbook calendar. Kemnitzer was active with the Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific movement and the East Timor Action Network. After retiring from SFSU, Luis started volunteering at a local soup kitchen in the Catholic Worker tradition. Luis is survived by his life partner, Moher Downing, his son David, daughter Lucy, and their families. Luis recently became a great-grandfather. His family, circle of friends, and dogs miss him very much.
Jim Haber, WRL West
April 14-17, nationwide: No More Tax Dollars to War! Protest tax day by joining or organizing an event in your area. Visit www.nwtrcc.org/taxday2006.htm to find a local action, or contact the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee at 1-800-269-7464.
April 17, San Francisco: Protest U.S. Taxes for War, Occupation, and Incarceration: Palestinian Political Prisoners Day and Tax Day Demonstration. Organized by SUSTAIN (Stop U.S. Tax Aid to Israel Now) and ADC-SF (American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee). Contact: sustainbayarea [at] yahoo.com
April 29, New York City: March for Peace, Justice, and Democracy. End the war in Iraq. Bring all our troops home now. Organizers include United for Peace and Justice, Peoples’ Hurricane Relief Fund, and Veterans for Peace. Visit: www.april29.org or call (212) 868-5545.
May 12-13, New York City; May 13-17, Washington DC: Operation Refuse War: Conscientious Objection Conference. www.operationrefusewar.org.
June 16-17, Buffalo, NY, and Fort Eerie, Ontario: Peace Has No Borders: A Festival of Resistance. Visit www.peacehasnoborders.org, or contact: information@ peacehasnoborders.com.
September 29-October 2; University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN: Stopping Merchants of Death: A Strategic Conference for Grassroots Activists. Local, national, and international networking among activists working against corporate war-profiteering. For more information: Simon Harak of the WRL at (212)228-0450; amc [at] warresisters.org.
October 6-9, Peacefarm, Panhandle, TX: Third Annual WRL Organizing Network Gathering. For more information, contact: Mavis Belisle at Peacefarm, (806)341-4801, or Jim Haber, convener of the Organizing Network, wrlwest [at] riseup.net.