Activists, veterans speak out against wars, 11 arrested
While cruise missiles were being launched into Libya from U.S. warships in the Mediterranean, anti-war activists rallied in Hollywood yesterday to protest America’s foreign policy.
Demonstrators, led by veterans and active-duty soldiers, marched through Hollywood and rallied in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. Calling for an end to the Afghanistan War and the occupation of Iraq, protesters demanded a reinvestment of the nation’s wealth: from war to jobs, education and social services.
“The entire, total state debt of all 50 states is 127 billion dollars. A tidy sum, but chump change compared to the one trillion dollars they have already spent in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Jim Lafferty, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, Los Angeles chapter.
During the rally, eleven anti-war activists were arrested in an act of civil disobedience. Sitting in front of the entrance to the Chinese Theatre, protesters held photos of soldiers killed in the wars. A reluctant LAPD arrested the activists for trespassing due to a complaint made by the theatre’s management.
Ed Garza, the Orange County chapter leader of Military Families Speak Out, was one of those arrested. Garza is a Vietnam War veteran who was awarded the Purple Heart. He spoke last week at the Mothers March rally in MacArthur Park.
In his speech, Garza spoke of his two friends and fellow veterans, Max and Felix, who both died from complications arising from Agent Orange exposure. Max had died only a few weeks prior.
In front of the Chinese Theatre, he voiced his concern for current soldiers exposed to depleted uranium, which is used in armor-piercing munitions and armor. Upon impact, depleted uranium munitions vaporize sending a fine, radioactive dust into the atmosphere that can be inhaled by combatants and non-combatants alike.
“Forty years from now, our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan will be having similar complications from depleted uranium,” he said.
Along with Garza, Pat Alviso was also arrested. She too is a member of Military Families Speak Out and was present last week at the MacArthur Park rally. She expressed concern for soldiers when they return from combat, saying many suffer from PTSD or from traumatic brain injuries.
“We need to bring our tax dollars home, so we can bring our children home, so we can begin taking care of them,” she said. “This is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much work ahead of us.”
Yesterday’s demonstration comes at a time when nearly two-thirds of Americans say the Afghanistan War is not worth fighting and nearly three-quarters say President Obama should withdraw significant numbers of soldiers from the country, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Several analysts from the intelligence community gave pessimistic reports to Congress last week about the war’s progress. Some say the 30,000 reinforcements sent to Afghanistan last year has failed to weaken the Taliban, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Earlier this month, the U.N. reported that 2010 was deadliest year yet for Afghans, according to the Los Angeles Times. Last year saw a 15 percent increase in civilian deaths, totaling 2,777. According the report, most of the deaths are caused by anti-government forces.
The ANSWER Coalition, the group that organized the demonstration, estimated over 4,000 people attended yesterday’s action. The demonstration marked the eighth anniversary of the Iraq War and occupation.
A common criticism among demonstrators was that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now the recent intervention in Libya, were not about spreading democracy, but gaining control of fossil fuels.
“It’s not about building democracy; it’s not about keeping us safe here at home,” said Mike Prysner, an Iraq War veteran and co-director of March Forward!. “It’s about controlling oil and natural gas reserves for billions of dollars in profits for a couple of billionaires sitting at the top.”
Veterans also spoke of their experiences and what galvanized them against the wars. March Forward! member and Iraq War veteran Kevin Baker talked about his friend and fellow veteran Derek Kirkland who committed suicide a year ago.
Baker said his friend, who was suffering form PTSD, had tried to kill himself three times, but was still considered fit for duty by Army psychologists. He said there are not enough military psychologists to treat soldiers, and what treatment there is, exists only to act as a rubber stamp for keeping soldiers in the battlefield.
“Kirkland is not an isolated incident,” said Baker. “In 2009 and 2010, more soldiers killed themselves than were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
“If this government doesn’t care about its own soldiers, then why would we think for a second it cares about liberty in other nations?” he added.
Flanked by veterans and active-duty soldiers, Ron Kovic spoke at the rally. Kovic was paralyzed in the Vietnam War, and is best known for his book “Born on the Fourth of July,” which was later made into a motion picture.
“I have been speaking on behalf of peace and non-violence ever since I was wounded in the war,” he said. “I wake up to the war every day. I know what war is. I have lived with it 24 hours a day for the past 43 years.”
Kovic told demonstrators that broad, sweeping change is possible. He referenced the people of Egypt, who recently overthrew their leader President Hosni Mubarak, and said such a democratic upsurge was possible in America too.
“We have been struggling for so long, for so many decades for peace, for change, for a country we can all love and believe in again,” he said. “We are not exempt from what happened in Egypt. It can happen here, right on the streets of Los Angeles.”