Monday, March 22, 2010

Drama queen




Over the weekend in the US, protests took place against the wars. They started Friday and continued through Sunday. In San Francisco, the protest I attended, you could follow the pink road, follow the pink road. I'm referring to a large ground banner which was pink and asked: "Where is our change? Where is our hope?" People began gathering for the rally a little before 11:30 in the morning (you could tell it was about to start as about 20 visible police officers were joined by 16 additional visible police officers just arriving) and, approximately an hour later, the march began ending a little after two o'clock. Chants included "Hey, hey, hey, ho/ The occupation has got to go!" and "Money for jobs and education! Not for wars and occupations!" Signs called out the occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine and drew links to where the US money went and where it didn't. I saw no signs regarding Columbia but I probably missed them. A speaker, Cristina Gutierrez, spoke on the issue and "even under the so-called liberal Obama administration, they still call our freedom fighters 'terrorists' regardless of whether they are in Columbia or Palestine." She gave a powerful speech on how change has not come, with a wide range of supporting evidence including that it is Barack's administration that continues to imprison Lynne Stewart and has "taken over 7 of the 12 military bases in Columbia."

Cristina Gutierrez: We are hear to ask you to stop your government from destroying the aspirations of the people of the world for justice and freedom. We are hear not to ask you not to raise money for us not to commit solidarity with our people but we are here to ask you stop the military budget, to stop the wars and to demand that the money be spent on education, creating jobs, housing and health care of all in this country.

It was a large group -- especially considering that there were demonstrations all over California (Los Angeles and San Diego being only two others). The people were diverse -- in terms of race and ethnicity, economic classification and age. Among the speakers were Daniel Ellsberg.

Daniel Ellsberg: . . . 40 years ago, 41 years ago, in 1969, there was a group and a movement called the moratorium. And they called it the moratorium rather than call it a "general strike" because that seemed too inflamatory. But what it was was, like today, demonstrations all over the country being counted not just in one city. There was 75,000 in indeed in San Francisco, 100,000 in New York. But here were ten here, twenty there, a thousand there, all over the country adding up to 2 million. And the difference was that it was on a weekday. They took off for the day for this so it really was a general strike. They thought it had no effect. They were wrong, the people who ran that and the people who took part in it. Nixon had threatened the North, through Russia and China, that he was going to escalate on November 3, 1969. He was threatening and planning to use nuclear weapons. And, also, as well, to invade Laos and Cambodia, North Vietnam, hit the dikes, hit Hai Phong, All the things that he did do later in the invasion of North Vietnam.

Ellsberg called for more actions like the ones today across the US and a general strike to send the message to DC that we can't "afford one or two trillion dollars away from our infrastructure, our education and our health to kill people". KPFA's Evening News' report on Saturday featured some of A.N.S.W.E.R.'s Richard Becker's speech. Jonathan Nack (Indybay Media -- link has text and photos) reports on the San Francisco action, "The mobilzation was notable not only for its greater size, which organizers estimated at 5,000, but also for its diversity. The crowd was both younger and more multiracial."
DC was the main focal point in the US. Cuba's Periodico reported that gathering rallied "at Lafayette Park on the north side of the White House. The rally was followed by a march that made stops at Halliburton, the Washington Post, the Mortgage Bankers Association of America, the National Endowment for Democracy and the Veterans Administration. Organizers said it was the largest demonstration to date opposing the Barack Obama administration's decision to expand the war in Afghanistan with tens of thousands more U.S. occupation troops." AP quoted Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan wondering if "the honeymoon was over with that war criminal in the White House," while Ralph Nader felt the only difference demonstrated between Bush and Barack was "Obama's speeches are better." Narayan Lakshman (The Hindu) added, "While the protest drew a smaller crowd than the tens of thousands who marched during the final years of the Bush administration, the ANSWER coalition, the main organiser, said momentum was building due to disenchantment with President Obama's troop surge decision for Afghanistan. Other participating groups included Veterans for Peace, Military Families Speak Out and the National Council of Arab Americans and activists such as Ralph Nader and Cindy Sheehan." Russia Today offers video of the DC protests. The Times of India quoted Iraq War veteran and Iraq Veterans Against the War member Matthis Chiroux stating, "Obama policies in Iraq and Afghanistan are as criminal as Bush's. The US machine produces war regardless of who is president. We are killing innocents." David Rosenberg (The KPFA Evening News) reported Saturday, "At least eight people, including activist Cindy Sheehan, were arrested by US Park Police at the end of the march after laying coffins at the fence outside the White House." Katherine Shaver (Washington Post) quotes A.N.S.W.E.R.'s Brian Becker stating, "A huge part of the antiwar movement has been focused on the Bush administration and its policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush is gone. Millions of people thought his exit would mean an end to these wars. Instead, after one year of real-life experience, they're far from ending." Also reporting on DC's action is Kosta Harlan (Fight Back!):

Military veterans gave a powerful condemnation of the occupation, and two speakers with Military Families Speak Out and Iraq Veterans Against the War ripped their dog tags and badges off of their uniforms and threw them off the stage, in a symbol of their rejection of the immoral, unjust, and criminal occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Many of the protestors were youth and new to the antiwar movement, and are committed to rebuilding a broad movement to force the United States to withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq.

AP and NBC New York write that the Manhattan protest against the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars today only generated "a few dozen people." I call out the New York leadership in this entry Saturday (and I admit there and here that I was oh so wrong -- that entry was written when a friend and LA peace activist bet me the NYC protest would be miniscule). Good for those who demonstrated. Joan Wile is the author of Grandmothers Against the War. She and Edith Cresmer are members of the Granny Peace Brigade and they wrote the following regarding the NYC action:
On Saturday, March 20, 2010, a beautiful unseasonably warm day, the eighth year of our occupation of Iraq began. Although we are told that officially we are no longer fighting there, that we have pulled back our forces, nevertheless our soldiers continue to die there. And so do many more Iraqis. It is way past time for us to pull out, and yet we remain. Why?
To commemorate the end of our seven years of illegal and immortal attack and occupation of Iraq a compendium of 10 New York City peace groups called the Seven Years Too Many Coalition gathered at the Times Square Recuriting Center to protest the continuation of the war and to call for an end of all wars.
Cheryl Wertz, Exec, Director of Peace Action New York State (PANYS) introduced the speakers -- Councilwoman Gale Brewer, and Vietnam vet Chaplain Hugh Bruce of Veterans for Peace. They discussed some of the terrible effects of war on people at home -- lost jobs, libraries, fire companies, and teachers -- and even worse effects on the people of Iraq and on our G.I.s. Literature was handed out with facts about the terrible results and the absurdity of war.
Demonstrators chanted: What is the cost of War? How Many? and How Much? And answered Too Many, too Many . . . and Too Much, too Much.
Good for all the groups who participated, good for all the individuals. But don't think for a moment that we forget who was silent. That's an NYC action. Where the bulk of Little Media is based. As Elaine pointed out Friday, Little Media wasn't realyl concerned with the Iraq War (forget the kiss ass article you saw at Al Jazeera). As we noted at Third in "Editorial: Barack is killing the left," Saturday morning, NYC Indymedia had nothing on their home page about the demonstration, WBAI didn't have it on the home page or on their monthly calendar. Praise for the Granny Peace Brigade and others who participated but grasp that if the word had gotten out, the number present would have been higher. But 'leaders' weren't interested. Chicago saw action on Saturday. Matt Muchowski (Gapers Block) explains, " On March 17, 2010 over a thousand people rallied at Federal Plaza and marched on Michigan Ave. It came as President Obama is intensifying the war in Afghanistan. The protesters seemed to be mocking Mayor Daley's challenge, 'Where are the anti-war people? They disappeared! They stopped marching!' No, we never did stop marching, even as Daley has continued to antagonize us." CBS reports Chicago activists dyed the Chicago River red and stated, "Most college students can now say that more than one quarter of their lives have been lived while the U.S. has been at war." Melissa Allison (Seattle Times) reports that they gathered "near Westlake Center . . . before marching for an hour through downtown streets." While, according to AP, the people of Raleigh were apathetic as indicated by the lethargic Chris Skidmore who "sipped a drink on the artificial lawn" and stated, "Honestly, with everything that's going on in my personal life, it slipped my mind." AP notes that Albuquerque saw over 100 (local estimates are 120) gathered to protest the continued wars on Saturday. Jake Begun (Badger Herald) reports that Madison, Wisconsin saw 200 gather Saturday for rally and he notes, "Iraq Veterans Against the War Madison Chapter President Todd Dennis said his aim in attending the day's events was to show solidarity with the various groups present and his own friends who have served. The war itself, and veterans' services are lacking, he said. By raising awareness through actions like Saturday's rally and march the issues facing those who fight the country's wars can be better represented." Charles Purnell (Daily Titan) reported on the Los Angeles action and noted Tamara Khoury "was a lead organizer and stage manager at the anti-war protest and peace march. Khoury is also a member of Act Now to Stop War and Racism (A.N.S.W.E.R.), the organization that put on the event. Formed September 14, 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, A.N.S.W.E.R. has grown to encompass branches in nearly every major city across the country and has organized some of the largest demonstrations in recent years, including the annual March 20 multi-city marches."
Even among those who attended the protests, there were some whose opposition to this administration's foreign policy is squishy at best. The same AP article cites one Shirley Allan of Silver Spring, Md., who "carried a sign that read, "President Obama We love you but we need to tell you! Your hands are getting bloody!! Stop it now."
Ms. Allan's sign says more about her than it does about the issue she purports to address. To confess to loving a political leader whose hands are even a little bit bloody is quite a revealing statement to make, and it just about sums up why the crowd was smaller than on previous occasions. The hate-Bush crowd has quickly morphed into the love-Obama cult of personality, and the so-called progressives have deserted the antiwar movement in droves. Our multiple wars just aren't an issue inside the Democratic party.
On the non-Marxist left, the triumph of the Obama cult is complete. Only the old-fashioned Leninists, such as the main organizers of the ANSWER rallies, have come out in visible opposition to Obama's wars. Even the Marxist left, however, is not immune to Obama-mania: the other major antiwar coalition, United for Peace and Justice, led by veterans of the old Communist Party, USA, issued a euphoric statement upon Obama's election and has been essentially moribund as an active antiwar organization ever since.
It was in this kind of political atmosphere, then – one of near complete political isolation – that rally attendees heard Cindy Sheehan wonder whether "the honeymoon was over with that war criminal in the White House." Sheehan's remark was met, according to AP, with merely "moderate applause." Ms. Allan was not among the applauders:
Many in the media spent the weekend ignoring the anniversary. Bob Schieffer (Face The Nation, CBS News -- link has text and video) didn't, he commented on the anniversary of the start of the Iraq War:

Washington has always been a one-story town. And for the last few weeks -- months, really -- the story has been health care reform. It's all we've been talking about.
Which is probably one reason a rather important anniversary passed almost without notice: March 19.
Ring a bell? Probably not. But March 19 was the seventh anniversary of the Iraq invasion, which began our longest war.
Turning to Iraq where the counting never stops. March 7th, Iraqis completed their voting in Parliamentary elections. Today is March 21st and the votes are still being counted. Rania El Gamal and Khalid al-Ansary (Reuters) report that 95% of the votes have been counted and that the results of the 100% count (unofficial count) would not be publicly revealed until Friday; however, Ayad Allawi's political party is at the top of the seesaw currently. One minute the unofficial count has Allawi in the lead and then, as more votes are counted, the lead switches to Nouri al-Maliki's political party. Then it switches again. At this rate, if the official count is anything like the current count, either political party could become the ruling party depending upon which one is able to enter a power-sharing coalition soonest. Sunday Martin Chulov (Guardian) reported, "Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has invoked the spectre of renewed violence if there is no recount of all ballots cast in the general election as its chaotic aftermath appears to increasingly threaten his grip on power." When in doubt, Nouri always screams violence is coming. Of course, when it actually comes, he's forever caught by surprise. Margaret Coker (Wall St. Journal) reports, "Iraq's electoral commission on Sunday brushed aside increased pressure from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other politicians demanding a recount in the close parliamentary race that could unseat the incumbent leader and other officials who have dominated Iraq's transition to democracy." If you're thinking of Nouri and how he loves to scream violence to get his way, you may be aware of step two: He stages protests. Hannah Allam and Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy's Miami Herald) report that already Nouri's supporters have taken to the streets in Najaf to 'protest.' The two reporters quote political analyst Haider al-Musawi stating, "The situation may well deteriorate into a state not unlike what happened in Iran. This would be catastrophic for the political process. Iraqis have started to believe that their votes could make a difference. If they see their votes turned around, God only knows where that would lead us -- maybe to violence once again."
Ned Parker and Caesar Ahmed (Los Angeles Times) also sought out an analyst, "Kenneth Katzman, an analyst on Iraq for the Congressional Research Service, warned Sunday that Maliki could be building the foundations for a non-democratic regime. 'Especially with this language of defending the constitution, setting themselves up as the protectors of the constitution, that is how authoritarian parties usually justify what they do,' Katzman said. 'It's ominous'." Meanwhile another voice joins Nouri's. Timothy Williams and Zaid Thaker (New York Times) explain Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq, has joined in the cries for recounts -- but then, as he did in July's elections, he's sunk his own political party again and is demanding recounts to shift the focus away from his lousy leadership. Talabani is a Kurd. He got himself into trouble not with charges of corruption (though those exist) but by failing to understand his own people. He called a Kurdish land in Iraq "a dream" that would never come true. When he made that statement, he destroyed his own power-base and his party. The Ahrar Party is also calling for a recount and they issued this statement on Friday:

Iraq election results being fixed - call for election recount

The leader of the Ahrar Freedom Party in Iraq today called for a nationwide recount of the results in the recent General Election held on 7 March.

Ayad Jamal Aldin said, "We have sound evidence of nationwide corruption in the election results presently being declared across Iraq. A large number of smaller parties are being deliberately squeezed out of the election result. Thousands of votes are being stolen and transferred to the larger parties, within the Malaki, Allawi and Hakim camps.

"Our Ahrar Party was polling fourth in a large number of governorates and

regions across Iraq and we have evidence that our, and other parties', votes are being excluded and not declared in the results so far.

"We have no confidence in the fairness and honesty of the election counting process. We call for international observers, including the United Nations and

US Vice President Joe Biden to intervene and support an independently

monitored recount of all the votes cast on 7th March. The people of Iraq are

being cheated out of a fair election result. No one has anything to fear from

a fairly conducted recount but if the present election results are allowed to

go unchallenged, Iraq will descend again into conflict rather than benefiting

from a free and fair electoral process."

For further information, contact:

Ahrar Media Bureau
Tel: +964 (0)790 157 4478 / +964 (0)790 157 4479 / +964 (0)771 275 2942

About Ayad Jamal Aldin:

Ayad Jamal Aldin is a cleric, best known for his consistent campaigning for a

new, secular Iraq. He first rose to prominence at the Nasiriyah conference in March 2003, shortly before the fall of Saddam, where he called for a state free

of religion, the turban and other theological symbols. In 2005, he was elected

as one of the 25 MPs on the Iraqi National List, but withdrew in 2009 after becoming disenchanted with Iyad Allawi's overtures to Iran. He wants complete independence from Iranian interference in Iraq. He now leads the Ahrar party

for the 2010 election to the Council of Representatives, to clean up corruption

and create a strong, secure and liberated Iraq for the future.

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