Saturday, September 20, 2008

Peace movement keeping on

In San Francisco's Bernal Heights, neighbors vigil for peace on September 19. The fellow in the red on the right is local candidate for city Supervisor in District 9, Eric Quezada.

Yesterday marked the beginning of the second year of the Iraq Moratorium campaign. The project urges activists all over the country to take public antiwar actions on the third Friday of every month until we end that war. And people do. This vigil group stands at Cortland and Andover each month.

Meanwhile, over at U.C. Berkeley, a teach-in was taking place in the student union building, bringing together veterans of the anti-Vietnam movement of 1968 with contemporary antiwar activists.

Current students were pretty interested.

Nobody had all the answers for the contemporary peace movement, but there were some interesting observations. I wrote down some quick bits from the speakers.

The only woman on the panel, Antonia Juhasz, author of the forthcoming book, The Tyranny of Oil: The World's Most Powerful Industry -- and What We Must Do To Stop It, exhorted her listeners:

We shouldn't expect a headline that says "Antiwar activism turned the US people against the war." But something did turn them around. We need to embrace our successes as well as recognize how much we have to do.

The two vets from current wars brought energy and passion.

Cleavon Gilman joined the Army in 1999. It was peacetime and he needed a job. They made him a corpsman. In Iraq, he saw soldiers he knew blown to pieces. He worked for a time at a prisoner processing facility where Iraqis were held on suspicion of being terrorists. The U.S. troops guarding them mostly saw "hajiis" and "niggers." He said "these 'terrorists' looked pretty peaceful to me." Pretty soon he figured out there was a pattern. A U.S. unit would search a town; their base would get attacked. "There was a kind of cause and effect thing happening over there." He left the military and now is student at UCB.

The other vet, Forrest, had served in Afghanistan. A member of Iraq Veterans against the War, he described the changes in himself as his experiences in the war zone pushed him from a gung-ho post-9/11 patriotism to a belief that "we're being like Hitler."

Professor Carlos Munoz of UC Berkeley clings to the convictions that animated so many antiwar activists in 1968, insisting

"movements are hurt by electoral politics"

Sixties activist, later a California legislator and currently a principle founder of Progressives for Obama, Tom Hayden brought messages more in tune with today's campus enthusiasms. Of Senator Obama he maintained

Sometimes there are figures who come along who create the space for a movement to fill. ...If he wins, the struggle will be to hold him accountable.

If McCain wins, there'll be a race between radicalization and depression.

Hayden warns that the wars of the next few years are likely to be "counterinsurgency" operations rather than invasions with large troop commitments.

Counterinsurgency means you try to get non-white people to fight your wars against each other.

[Our rulers don't want us messing with their wars.] We are the target of counterinsurgency. ... We need less 'study war no more' -- it is going to have to be 'study war much more.'

Hayden looks to veterans and a new generation of activists to make the wars of the empire visible to the people our rulers would rather keep in the dark. He sees continued activism as the way to create momentum for peace.

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