Tomorrow, They March
On Saturday, March 19, a historic event will happen in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Thousands of demonstrators from around the country will descend on the home of the Army's 82nd Airborne and Fort Bragg -- which has 46,000 active-duty soldiers -- to issue a simple demand: "Real Support for the Troops: Bring Them Home Now!"
What will make this demonstration different than the hundreds taking place around the country this weekend? The first is the location, a conscious decision by Southern peace activists to take their message directly to those who can understand it the most, the military families who are suffering the brunt of the war. According to USA Today, 53 soldiers from the base have died in Iraq.
Second, the march reflects a new leadership in the anti-war movement. Military families and veterans -- whose moral authority in opposing Bush's war is unimpeachable -- have been central to the organizing of the March 19 event in North Carolina. Here are some of the voices that will be present:
"Our family never agreed with the war or it's reasons, but since Casey was killed, so many of the reasons and rationalizations that Bush has given have proven to be lies. My goal is to bring our troops home to try and save another mother from going through what I am going through." -- Cindy Sheehan, co-founder of Gold Star Families for Peace, whose son Casy, a soldier, was killed in Iraq in April 2004
"Every member of every family who has ever sent a loved one to war has suffered. They know their sons and daughters, husbands and wives are in harm’s way for nothing, for a war that should never have happened. And they know that their sons and daughters, husbands and wives are killing people who didn’t have to die either." -- Nancy Lessin, co-founder of Military Families Speak Out, whose son Joe was deployed in 2002
"I am only a regular person that got tired of being afraid to follow his own conscience. For far too long I allowed others to direct my actions even when I knew that they were wrong." -- Camillo Meja, former Staff Seargant in the Florida National Guard who refused to return to Iraq and sentenced to a year in prison after his conscientious objector status was denied
"My husband is a soldier; those people in Washington asking for your support are business men posing as politicians. If you want to support our troops you have to know the difference." -- Kara Hollingsworth, a 25-year old student, mother and army wife living at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, whose husband is currently serving his second tour of duty in Iraq
“The solution right now is a withdrawal of the American occupation force. It’s not working… [Iraq Veterans Against the War] will fill a void. It’s really hard for guys over there to express themselves. Any of their stories that we can relay is a big thing, because the picture we’re getting is filtered.” -- Michael Hoffman, Co-Founder of Iraq Veterans Against the War, took part in the invasion of Iraq in April 2003 as a Marine lance-corporal
Honest people can and do disagree about when the U.S. should pull out of Iraq, as the American public grows more ambivalent about staying (interestingly, Latinos are the group most in favor of immediate pull-out) and more countries announce their withdrawal from the quagmire.
But those urging a "go slow" or "wait and see" approach should have no illusions about America's long-term intentions. Billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars are now going towards creating 11 permanent military bases in Iraq to ensure American control over the country -- a story virtually untouched by the mainstream media.
This military force goes hand-in-hand with the U.S.'s revamping of the Iraq economy to allow multinational corporations to dominate the country's wealth and resources. Another under-reported story is the list of rules that occupier-in-chief Paul Bremer forced on Iraq, and which are still on the books:
Order #39: Privatize the country's 200 state-owned enterprises, permit 100 percent foreign ownership of Iraqi businesses, allow for complete repatriation of profits without tax. No requirements for reinvestment, hiring local labor, or provisioning public services. Labor rights non-existent.
Order #40: Foreign banks can enter the Iraqi market and take a 50 percent interest in formerly state-owned banks.
Order #49: Drop the corporate tax rate from 40 percent to a flat 15 percent. The income tax is capped at 15 percent.
Order #12: Suspension of 'all tariffs, customs duties, import taxes, licensing fees and similar surcharges for goods entering or leaving Iraq, and all other trade restrictions that may apply to such goods.' Result: A tidal wave of cheap imports wipes out locally made goods.
Order #17: Security firms get full immunity from Iraq's laws.
As for all the talk about the flowering of democracy in the Middle East, the U.S. has actually been holding back democratic progress in Iraq for over a year, favoring a process that guarantees subservience to Washington -- an aim frustrated by the Iraqi resistance.
As Lou Plummer, a veteran who lives in Fayetteville and is a lead organizer of tomorrow's protests observes, Iraqis are perfectly capable of running their own country. "To think otherwise," he says, "frankly, is just racist."
How many deadly episodes in Iraq will it take to change the minds of those who think a continuing U.S. "presence" is needed to "preserve the peace," when the exact opposite has been the reality for two years? The words of Noam Chomsky, describing the choices involved in another U.S. imperial venture in 1968, ring just as true today:
"Just what might emerge from the shattered debris of South Vietnamese society, no one can predict with any confidence. It is clear, however, that under the American occupation, there can be only unending tragedy."
If you agree, join the military families, veterans, and others who care about peace in Fayetteville tomorrow -- in spirit or in person -- to seek an end to the tragedy known as the Iraq war.
UPDATE: For more information about March 19 in Fayetteville, visit here.