Hundreds Arrested in War Protests
By Chris Kuttruff
On Monday, more than 200 protesters across the nation were arrested in response to their demonstrations against the war. The protests, rallying thousands across the nation, were organized by United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), an organization comprised of a broad coalition of individuals who, according to their web site, oppose the Iraq War and the US "government's policy of permanent warfare and empire-building." (1)
The March 19 protests differed significantly from past, larger mass-mobilizations and tended to focus more on creative acts of civil disobedience.
Judith LeBlanc, lead organizer for UFPJ, spoke with Truthout about the impact of Wednesday's demonstrations. "Yesterday was a very important day for the movement ... It brought together young people, faith-based groups, military families, and people of all races and backgrounds. We had over 700 local actions and a large number of people taking the day off work."
LeBlanc emphasized the unique purpose of the UFPJ-led demonstrations: "This broad group of people is a reflection of the majority ... and [Wednesday] was about giving people an opportunity to express their opposition in creative, non-violent ways ... Women carrying lifeless babies ... Men with bloody hands. What was amazing was how people came out of stores and observed; it was an incredible atmosphere ... people asking, 'What is it that is really going on in our world?'"
LeBlanc noted what impacted her most was witnessing a mother say to her nine-year-old girl, "honey, look, it's about the war ... it's people speaking out against the war." LeBlanc said the demonstrations were "true opposition ... the way it should be ... people pausing in their daily lives to think: this war needs to end ... and this is the cutting edge of what's going to drive people to the polls in November."
Marking the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, a small sector of the two-thirds of Americans who believe the war was a mistake and advocate withdrawal, publicly displayed their dissent and commitment to a change of policy - willing to be arrested to make their point.
Symbolizing their desire to stop funding the Iraq war, about a hundred demonstrators attempted to block traffic flow to the IRS building in DC. More protesters later gathered near the same area, holding signs that read: "Stop Paying to Kill." Many in the DC area also focused on a military recruiting center at 15th and L, along with the American Petroleum Institute on 13th. (2)
According to The Chicago Sun Times, about 2,500 people marched the streets on Wednesday in downtown Chicago to protest the war. Protesters carried banners, banged on buckets and chanted, "This war must end."
In Kauai, Hawaii, demonstrators stood in front of an Army Recruiting office and held signs detailing the projects that could have been funded, and services provided, by the money spent on the Iraq war. (5)
In another demonstration of civil disobedience, 150 protesters were arrested in San Francisco for blocking traffic and chaining themselves to public buildings. The event attracted hundreds of spectators to the business district of San Francisco. That evening, about 3,000 people gathered at the San Francisco civic center to silently and solemnly voice their opposition. (3)
Five years after the start of the Iraq War, the United States has lost almost 4,000 American soldiers and spent over half a trillion dollars on operations and reconstruction so far. According to McClatchy, about 100,000 innocent Iraqi civilians have died (some sources estimate even more), and over 2.5 million have been displaced from their homes. (4)
The turmoil of war and sectarian violence across Iraq has made reconciliation difficult with hostility high between Sunnis and Shiites.
President Bush stated on Wednesday, "... Removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right decision, and this is a fight that America can and must win." Many critics, however, argue the president fails to recognize the complexity of the situation, noting the betterment of Iraqi civilian life is not contingent upon US military "success" or "failure," but rather the gradual restoration of stability and safety in the region.
On Monday, prior to a devastating suicide attack that killed dozens, Vice President Dick Cheney addressed the press while on a visit to Baghdad: "If you look back on those five years it has been a difficult, challenging but nonetheless successful endeavor ... and it has been well worth the effort."
But despite optimism coming out of the Bush administration, Iraqi citizens still feel their quality of life has, in many respects, worsened. According to an ABC/BBC poll, an overwhelming majority of Iraqis (about 70 percent) note poor conditions regarding employment and availability of resources (fuel, electricity, clean water and medical care). (5) Also, about two-thirds of Iraqi citizens view the security situation over the past six months as the same or worse than before.