Jamilla El-Shafei is the co-founder and organizer for Save Our Water in Southern Maine
Last Saturday, following President Obama’s Nobel Prize speech in Oslo, anti-war political leaders, the cadre of the peace movement, and activists and citizens of conscience gathered at Lafayette Park across from the White House in protest of his escalation of the war in Afghanistan. The “NO YOU CAN’T!” rally featured speakers who called for an end to the wars, complete withdrawal of U.S. troops, and an end to drone attacks and covert military operations in Pakistan.
Among the long list of truly inspiring speakers were several former presidential candidates — Congressman Dennis Kucinich, former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, former Senator Mike Gravel and third party candidate Ralph Nader — who appeared on stage together, in solidarity, against the continuation of Bush’s war policies.
Speaker Lynne Williams, who is running for Governor of Maine as a Green Party candidate, reminded the rally crowd that “We have a history of stopping presidents who escalate wars. We did not give Lyndon Johnson a pass and we forced him out of the race for his second term. If President Obama continues to escalate the wars, then we must let him know that we will run a peace candidate.”
In his speech, Congressman Kucinich said, “This coming week Congress will fold in unemployment compensation into a bill which will provide $130 billion dollars to keep the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq going. The message is clear: we have money for war but not for jobs, money for war and not for peace.” He urged people to take our message to the town halls, the labor halls and Congressional offices and to the streets.
David Swanson, author of the new book Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union, and one of the featured speakers, told the crowd that “Congress members are perfectly aware they can vote No on the whole package until the war money is taken out and the unemployment insurance is left in. And you know that you can force them to do it now or in the coming weeks and months. You know that more difficult things have been done. You know that it is far more enjoyable to engage in this struggle—even in the cold—than to sit home and complain. You know that the time is rapidly approaching when we must do what any civilized nation would have long since done and nonviolently shut down this town.” The rally participants responded enthusiastically in agreement.
Having been arrested on Capital Hill a couple of years ago for attempting to shut down business as usual, I am in agreement that we need to engage in massive acts of civil disobedience. Historically, mass non-violent resistance has been an instrument for change that has worked.
I have watched in awe, as my sisters and brothers in Latin America and Europe have taken to the streets to demonstrate and watched their governments brought down on their knees.
However, in American, it seems that people really believe that they are engaged if they get out to canvas during election years, go to some Move On rallies and vote for one of the candidates of the two party monopoly.
We don’t take to the streets, we take to the computer. Unfortunately, too many of us sit on our butts in front of the computer monitor, complaining about the sad state of affairs.
Presently the anti-war movement is like a flea on an elephant. The “Obama effect,” aided by the corporate media’s near absence of reportage about the resistance to the wars, has helped to shrink the ranks of the anti-war movement.
Putting out a call for the rally was just the beginning of what organizers hope will be a spark which will catch fire. Although the rally numbers were small, those who showed up were mostly the anti-war cadre making a demand to our president and Congress to stop the funding and stop the wars.
In spite of the absence of many Liberal Democrats at the rally, there has been increasing awareness that if they do not push Obama to end the wars, they will loose their anti-war base. In fact, this may prove to be the time for a third party to assert itself, as Democrats become more disillusioned with their “peace president” who turned out to be a Trojan horse.
Furthermore, people are beginning to understand that both the Democratic and Republican parties are controlled by the Military Industrial Complex and the Corporatocracy, as highlighted in Michael Moore’s documentary Capitalism.
People thought by voting for Obama they would get peace and prosperity and they got a continuation of Bush’s economic and war policies. They feel duped, and they are getting angrier every day as the American Dream is drowned in debt from endless wars.
But President Obama’s continuation of Bush’s policies is a symptom of a sick, broken and corrupt system. One in which we need wars to finance the Military Industrial Complex in order to sustain the prosperity of our country, as Senator Gravel has pointed out. We need systemic change. That will take time and much hard work, starting with the rebuilding of a grassroots movement demanding REAL change. We cannot achieve this sitting at our desks, we must get active!
The NO YOU CAN’T rally, the first in Obama’s presidency to signal that there will be consequences for the President and Congress if they continue the wars, enriching the war profiteers and bankrupting our country, will be followed by mass demonstrations and direct actions in Washington D.C. during the week of March 22nd and local actions in Congressional offices across the country. Peace activist Cindy Sheehan is planning an encampment to be erected on the lawn of the Washington Monument.
Former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, who ran for president as a Green Party candidate in 08, stated, “We will not give up and we will not go away. We are not so demoralized that we can’t see the truth, we know that lies are not truth; ignorance is not strength, and war is not peace.”
“We have to have more of these protests," said former Senator Mike Gravel. "This is the beginning of what happened with the Viet Nam era.” He ended his speech with the chant “Hey, Obama what do you say, How many kids did you kill today.”
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