An increasing number of voices are rising up in the Central Valley to demand an end to the war in Iraq. On the second anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, people from throughout the valley and around the country are protesting the ongoing war and occupation.
Peace Fresno and dozens of groups in the Central Valley have focused their organizing efforts on the Rally in the Valley, held in downtown Fresno’s courthouse park. It was at last year’s Rally in the Valley that Peace Fresno activist Ken Hudson was arrested. Charges were later dropped.
The Rally in the Valley is one of over 700 anti-war events being held in this country. United for Peace and Justice announced that this is over twice the number of events that were held last year. Dan Yaseen, president of Peace Fresno, estimated the crowd at this year’s event at over 500. Even the intermittent rain did not keep participants from attending and having a good time. The musical group Green Machine started the day off with their psychedelic, blues, reggae, punk and avant-garde style music. Nadia McCaffery, whose son died in Iraq, gave a moving talk about the immorality of the war and shared her personal loss with the audience. She has been to Iraq and says "they want the same thing that we do – peace." McCaffery says she has had enough of war and that her "son’s life is not gone for nothing." She will continue to speak out against the war and go wherever she is invited to share her story.
The anti-authoritarian group RANCOR held a creative fund raiser at the Rally in the Valley. Rancor members sold raffle tickets giving everyone the opportunity to "smash Bush Lies!" The winner got to smash a TV set playing a scene with George Bush droning on about the weapons of mass destruction. The gimmick attracted both those who hate TV and George Bush. A fun time was had by all.
Back on the stage, Patricia Wells-Solorzano and her musical group, entertained the rain soaked crowd with songs from the struggles of farmworkers, the civil rights movement, and Central America. Sabrina Worsham, a graduate student at CSU Long Beach told the audience about her high school sweetheart and close friend Casey Sheehan who was killed in Iraq. Worsham called on the crowd to "stop the war and support the troops by bringing them home now." Another speakers at the Rally in the Valley was Sean O’Neill, who served two tours of duty as a US Marine. He was wounded in Iraq and told the audience of the horrors of the war and occupation. We too called for an immediate end to the war.
In addition to local anti war events in Fresno, Bakersfield, Reedley, Modesto, Davis, Sonora and Sacramento, there were hundreds of activists who attended the big march and demonstration in San Francisco. Students at CSUF organized a bus to the SF demonstration. Michelle Colvin, who was on the bus from CSUF said "I fully support the local anti-war efforts that are happening in the valley, however, this is a unique opportunity for me to be able to attend my first massive demonstration in San Francisco."
Ruth Obel-Jorgensen was active in organizing the CSUF bus to San Francisco. She said the "Campus Peace & Civil Liberties Coalition voted to take a bus to San Francisco because we felt it was important to give students at Fresno State the opportunity to feel the solidarity and power of a huge protest like those held in SF. We support the Rally in the Valley fully and have several members that have chosen to stay here in to be a part of it, including myself."
Doug, a member of the Direct Action Anti-Authoritarian (DAAA) Collective of Modesto explains why he was not attending the local anti war rally: "we have chosen to engage in the protests in SF because we would like to use the event as an opportunity to train some of our younger collective members in un-permitted, anti-authoritarian street protest. We support the local Modesto rally, and other members of the collective will be lending solidarity to it."
The war in Iraq has now cost this country over $150 billion dollars, with the Bush administration requesting an additional $82 billion this year. To see how this money could have been used to meet human needs, go here. You will see, for example, that instead of war, we could have eliminated homelessness or provided adequate resources for our school system. Recently, 300 students in Parlier walked out of their classrooms protesting the districts plan to layoff teachers and cut back music and sports programs.
After two years of war and occupation, the Republicans and Democrats in Washington DC are now debating the pros and cons of where to go from here. The Republicans, of course, are saying that the way out of Iraq is through Iran. In the Republican Party’s vision of the world, their will be endless wars to maintain the empire. The Democrats in Congress are debating the issue and there is no clear consensus that they are even opposed to the war. Senator Ted Kennedy proposed that George Bush and the new Iraqi government negotiate a schedule for a "drawdown." At least 12,000 US troops, maybe more, should leave at once, Kennedy said, "to ease the pervasive sense of occupation." Representative Marty Meehan released a white paper urging adoption of a specific timetable for a phased withdrawal over twelve to eighteen months. Meehan does not support immediate withdraw. "The chaos that would result," he says would undermine US credibility and destabilize the entire region. John Kerry refused to even endorse Kennedy’s plan.
Locally, there are very few people in the progressive community that believe that U.S. troops should be pulled out slowly. Michael Becker, an active member of RANCOR said "The Iraqi invasion should end March 18 2002, yes, before it began." Bruce Morris said "The day BEFORE the invasion!" and Fresno County Peace and Freedom Party chairperson John Crockford was even more succinct simply saying "immediately." He added, "Holy, cow! I can’t believe this is even being debated."
But, at least one local progressive Democrat argues for a withdrawal of U.S. forces that might take several months. Dan Rosenberg, who ran against Representative George Radanovich in the 19th Congressional District in November 2000, said "that should the US announce a planned complete withdrawal from Iraq, the other nations in the world would rally to the cause and help keep stability and promote a more peaceful transition of sovereignty to the new Iraqi government. This would yield many other benefits as well. It would shift the focus (of hatred and blame) off of the US. Other nations would have much more credibility in claiming that they were there to help the Iraqi people. This transition could be concluded within a relatively short period, say 3-6 months." Rosenberg concluded by saying that we should support our troops by bringing them home.
Central California Institute board member and author of the booklet Central California: Transition from Blight to Delight Phil Erro said "the government of the United States needs to get out of Iraq this week. It needs to invoice the oil companies, Halliburton, Bechtel, and the other oil/infrastructure companies for the cost of the seizure of Iraq up to this point. The oil companies, G.E., Boeing and the other defense contractors need to take control of the 14 military bases and hire the personnel to staff their war machine. This is a war for private gain. Let private companies finance it, staff it, and above all take the consequences when foreign nationals object to the theft of their resources." Erro finished by saying "The Democrats are obviously beholden to corporate interests. OUT OF IRAQ NOW!!"
Sheryn Todd, who works with CHAANGE, a group that provides grassroots advocacy on behalf of people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, says "I believe the war in Iraq should end NOW! Since it never should have began in the first place. We are losing our civil rights here–now for the sake of Bush’s attempt to colonize Iraq. As far as leaving Iraq in a state of confusion; this war is the cause of the confusion."
Isabell Lawson of Fresno says "The US should not have gone into Iraq. But of what avail belaboring a moot point. The dilemma is, when and how can the US get out of Iraq? Taking into account the mentality of the Capitol Hill triumvirate; Bush; Cheny; Rumsfeld; an early withdrawal of the military from Iraq is as likely as is the freezing over of hell. Karl Rove, the shadowy power behind the throne and reputedly the presidents brain (an oxymoron) adds nothing positive to the faulty equation IRAQ. Representative Marty Meehan"s white paper asserts that to immediately withdraw from Iraq would undermine US credibility, and chaos would result. How much more chaos can there possibly be? What US credibility would be undermined?" But Lawson still has some faith in the Democrats. She points out that "Senator Ted Kennedy is proposing the only workable, realistic and moral solution: END IT NOW! GET OUT OF IRAQ NOW! AND LET IT BE WITH HONOR!"
Liz Maury says "the U.S. occupation should end as soon as possible." According to Maury, "as soon as possible forces the American occupying force to create the structure under which withdrawal can occur, it acknowledges the untenable moral position of our troops in Iraq, provides a clear message to the Iraqi people that America will not be occupying Iraq indefinitely, and gives the international community a criterion of accountability for the American government."
There is not much of a debate among grassroots progressive activists in this community about ending the war and occupation. Everyone agrees that the best way to support our troops is to bring them home. The majority of anti-war activists want the troops to be removed from Iraq immediately. If there is a discussion about a timeline for withdrawal it is always viewed as a very short period of time that is a transition intended to ease the suffering of the Iraqis. The Democratic Party is considerably to the right of grassroots activists in the Central Valley on this issue.
Peace Fresno, which is the most visible anti-war group in the Central Valley, is always looking for new members. If you are interested in working to stop the war and occupation of Iraq, you can find out how to get involved by going to: http://www.peacefresno.org