Speakers Link War on Afghanistan to Justice and Environmental Issues
Seventy Hoosiers rallied against escalating war in Afghanistan on Saturday, October 17, in Indianapolis, the capital of Indiana. They came from as far away as Fort Wayne, Manchester, Bloomington, and West Lafayette to demand that President Obama choose diplomacy rather than increased military operations in that troubled land.
The “October 7 Coalition” that organized the rally as the culmination of several days of anti-war events around Indianapolis included traditional peace groups and others such as Iraq Veterans Against the War, Central Indiana Jobs With Justice, Women in Black, Code Pink, and Earth House.
The opening plea for a reconsideration of the military commitment to war in Afghanistan was made by Reverend Mmaja Ajabu, Minister of Social Concerns, Light of the World Christian Church. Reverend Ajabu recalled that when he went off to the Vietnam War forty years ago he thought he was engaging in a noble cause. He said it did not take him long to realize that he was not engaged in a cause which justified killing and dying in battle. In fact, he suggested, most soldiers have a radical change of consciousness when they are planted in the middle of a war that is not about their interests.
Dave Lambert, Fort Wayne veteran of the military and the peace movement, documented in passionate prose the utter futility of wars, from Vietnam, to Iraq, to Afghanistan. Concerning the impact of war on soldiers, he referred to National Guard Specialist Jacob W. Sexton, on leave from service in Kabul, who just days earlier had shot and killed himself in a Muncie movie theatre.
Timothy Baer, Bloomington Peace Action Coalition, identified ten historically-grounded reasons why the United States needed to withdraw from Afghanistan including cost, growing unpopularity of invading forces, and massive violence against civilians.
Dave Pilbrow, North Meadow Circle of Friends, linked issues of war and peace to devastation of the environment. Not only war, but the allocation of resources for war-the military/industrial complex-needs to be challenged if the human race and nature are to survive.
Shehzad Qazi, a student at Indiana University/Purdue University and member of an undergraduate think tank on international security issues, and Lori Perdue, Code Pink, demanded a negotiated solution to the war in Afghanistan. Qazi asserted that what we call the Taliban is a loose coalition of forces with differing perspectives on the willingness to negotiate with their enemies.
Lori Perdue said that she had initially favored an attack on Afghanistan after 9/11 and was moved to that position by the terrible treatment of women in Afghan society. She later realized that the position of women would not be improved by a U.S. war on the country. Women’s rights and peace can only come, she argued, through an all-parties conference to end the war. As the primary victims of the Afghan war, women needed to be at the negotiating table.
Peace Activists Rally and March While Jobless and Homeless Convene for Food
After the speeches, participants marched through downtown Indianapolis chanting for an end to war and money for health care and jobs, not for warfare.
Meanwhile, across the grassy mall from the American Legion monument where the rally was held, and just across the street from the large and elegant Indianapolis public library about 75 people, the same number as those rallying for peace, lined up for free food provided every other Saturday to those without work and housing. This assemblage was mostly African American, while the peace rally was mostly white. The peace rally was in front of the sculpture depicting the history of the U.S. war on Vietnam. So at the same time, a block apart there was a protest against another Vietnam and an assembly of those needing free food, as the country was spending billions of dollars to kill Afghan people while neglecting to feed its own citizens.
Harry Targ, representing the Lafayette Area Peace Coalition, had reminded the assembled protestors of the tragedy of President Lyndon Johnson 45 years ago. As president, Johnson signed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, declared a war on poverty, and called on Americans to create a “Great Society.” The goal remained unfulfilled due to the cost of the brutal war on the Vietnamese people.
Tim King, rally organizer and moderator, interspersed speeches with relevant statements from Dr. Martin Luther King, Eleanor Roosevelt, and former President Eisenhower who said in 1953 that; “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”
Postscript on the Rally and March Against the War in Afghanistan
Reflections on the rally and march stimulated both praise and self-criticism. What was praiseworthy was the numbers, group representation, sense of determination of participants, and emotional and intellectual power of speeches and chants. The rally was the culmination of networking and organizing of multiple events in a city and state with strong conservative traditions in the context of a political environment dominated by an enormous array of issues: health care, global warming, jobs, and unparalleled Wall Street corruption.
However, the peace movement in Central Indiana, and everywhere, must continue to connect the issues that impact on people’s lives. Metaphorically peace activists must strategize about crossing the mall from the Vietnam War memorial to the food distribution line. While the peace movement bridges some of the divides between people in terms of gender, and religion, for example, more work can be done to overcome barriers of class and race.
Finally, peace and justice activists need to figure out ways to overcome inertia, issue-fatigue, and the overuse of traditional tactics, to mobilize masses of people everywhere to be part of the struggles to create peace and justice. The dilemmas peace and justice activists face in the Heartland of Indiana are similar in substance to the problems all progressives face.