Friday, August 29, 2008

Standoff with Police as Iraq Vets Demand to Meet with Obama Campaign

Standoff with Police as Iraq Vets Demand to Meet with Obama Campaign

By Alex Kane and Jessica Lee
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A little more than an hour before Sen. Barack Obama made a surprise appearance at Pepsi Center to conclude the evening at the Democratic National Convention, his campaign had an exchange with Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW).

Approximately 100 IVAW members were determined to push Obama on his stance on troop withdrawal. Leading a grueling three-hour-plus long march of an estimated 7,000 demonstrators towards the Pepsi Center late in the afternoon, IVAW hoped to deliver a folded flag and a letter calling on Obama to endorse the three main goals of unity: immediate withdrawal of American troops, full veterans benefits, and reparations for the Iraqi people.

The march was met with a line of more than 100 Denver Police Department officers clad in riot gear and armed with batons and pepper ball guns at the intersection of Market and 17th Streets. The police refused to let IVAW or the thousands of antiwar demonstrators closer to the convention. After long moments of contention between the demonstration and the police, finally one IVAW representative, former U.S. Marine Liam Madden, was allowed to cross police lines to meet with representatives of the Obama campaign.

As Madden left on his mission, it seemed as if more than 50 IVAW members were prepared to engage in non-violent civil disobedience and likely arrest. Less than 10 minutes later, at approximately 7:40pm (CT), an announcement was made by IVAW to the crowd, indicating that Obama had endorsed their three points of unity, causing the crowd to uproar in applause.

Some veterans were visibly emotional by the end of the march. In a highly stirring and symbolic moment, members of IVAW gave a peace salute towards the direction of the Pepsi Center. There was then a moment of silence for casualties of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Sen. Obama, we won't forget this," said Jeff Engelhart, IVAW member who served in Baquba, Iraq, with the U.S. Army 1st Infantry Division, to the crowd via microphone and loud speakers. He went on to indicate that if Sen. Obama did not make good on his endorsement, more antiwar protests would come.

But there seemed to be some disconnect between the protesters and Madden's conversation with the Obama campaign.

IVAW's statement that the Obama campaign endorsed their points of unity could not be confirmed. The endorsement seems to be at odds with the Obama campaign's stated positions on troop withdrawal, which involve a gradual and phased withdrawal of combat troops, with a residual force to stay in Iraq for the time being.

Local news stations have not confirmed the claim that Obama endorsed the three points of unity. Instead, both the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post are reporting that a meeting has been planned between IVAW and Obama's liaison for veterans' affairs.

Members of IVAW expressed pessimism of the Democrats as an antiwar party, noting that although they were elected in 2006 with an antiwar message, they have continually funded the wars.

"I really don't feel [Obama] is the antiwar candidate," said U.S. Army Specialist Sean Valdez, a new member of IVAW who served two tours of duty in Iraq. "It's so hard. You hear what he says and you want to believe it, but how many times have we been disappointed before this?"

"We're here as veterans, as soldiers, as marines, here to demand that the Democratic Party uphold to the front that they have as an antiwar party, and actually make a stand, and bring our soldiers home now," said 31-year-old Adrienne Kinnie, a member of IVAW who served in the U.S. Army and Army Reserves from 1994 to 2004.

In a juxtaposition that is becoming familiar in Denver, two worlds seemly unconnected are living side-by-side, only streets apart -- the polished Democratic showcase and the simultaneous protests in the parks and streets where the voices of ordinary people remain unheard by the Democratic dynasty.

While Sen. John Kerry addressed delegates about the Iraq War and veteran issues, outside the convention thousands of demonstrators were demanding that the Democrats take a firmer stance on ending the war and providing better treatment to U.S. military personnel and veterans. There was no mention of the large demonstration or the concerns of IVAW during the convention presentation inside Pepsi Center, although most of the speeches given throughout the night touched on the Iraq War and the military.

The Denver Police Department riot officers, looking as menacing as ever with their fingers on the triggers of their pepper ball guns, failed to corral the demonstrators into the so-called designed "free speech zone," located near 7th Street and Walnut Street, earlier in the afternoon when it left the Denver Coliseum after a Rage Against the Machine concert.

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