[sixties-l] War on terror stirs new activism (fwd)

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Date: Tue Apr 23 2002 - 14:43:26 EDT

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    Date: Wed, 17 Apr 2002 15:53:48 -0700
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: War on terror stirs new activism

    War on terror stirs new activism


    Protesters filter concerns through lens of outrage over 9/11 attacks

    Houston Chronicle
    April 14, 2002

    Maybe it is just as well that George Reiter and Ralph Chesney never have met.
    Reiter, a University of Houston physics professor, Green Party candidate
    for Congress and one-time organizer of Vietnam War protests, is a blunt
    critic of President Bush's war on terrorism. His message: The war is
    ill-advised, brutal and ineffective.
    Chesney, a barrel-chested and lavishly tattooed Vietnam vet, has a message,
    too. Directed at people like Reiter, it can't be printed.
    Opinion polls consistently show overwhelming support for Bush's policies in
    the Middle East -- 87 percent favored the war in a late-January CBS/New
    York Times sampling. But as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks begin their
    retreat into history, a small but vocal anti-war movement is emerging.
    The new activists, many of them not even born at the time of the Vietnam
    War, range from religious pacifists to revolutionary Marxists. And while
    they oppose a military operation Vice President Cheney has conceded "may
    never end," they express outrage at the September attacks and vow the
    perpetrators should be brought to justice, albeit through world courts, not
    on the battlefield.
    In February, more than 1,000 Houstonians packed a Heights-area peace
    festival to donate more than $1,000 for medical aid to Afghan civilians.
    More than 15 anti-war groups participated in the event, which organizers
    hailed as a political awakening for the city's artists, writers and musicians.
    This week, protests will burst upon the national stage with a Saturday
    march on the nation's Capitol that police expect will draw as many as
    20,000 demonstrators. Secondary protests around the country will include,
    in Houston, a sunrise prayer vigil on the grounds of Rothko Chapel and an
    afternoon rally at an as yet unannounced location.
    Washington demonstrators, at least two busloads of Houston activists among
    them, will demand a U.S. foreign policy based on "social and economic
    justice, not military and corporate oppression," funds for economic victims
    of the September attacks, an end to military recruitment targeting minority
    and working-class youth, and a halt to "degrading and secret imprisonment
    of immigrants."
    "Our fundamental message is that we need to address poverty and the other
    roots of terrorism," said Nopur Modi, 23, of Sugar Land, a coordinator of
    the Washington march. "We can't fight terror with terror."
    Led by student and youth organizations formed in the aftermath of the
    September attacks, the march has been endorsed by more than 300 groups,
    including Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the American Friends Service
    Committee, Grandmothers for Peace International of Elk Grove, Calif.,
    Queers for Racial and Economic Justice, and the Nude Forest Frolicking
    Party of America, a North Carolina organization with 30 members.
    "I think for the people going, it's an expression of their fundamental
    humanity," Reiter said. "This is who we are, and we are opposed to this
    treatment of the rest of the world. The administration has made it clear
    this will not stop with the Afghans.
    "Well, there is opposition here and we're not going away."
    "The important thing," added Bob Buzzanco, a University of Houston history
    professor who plans to attend the march, "is to give people a sense of
    community. The Bush administration has said you're either with them or with
    the terrorists. I think a lot of people feel isolated and afraid."
    Longtime Houston Green Party activist David Cobb, a candidate for Texas
    attorney general, predicted this week's protests will prove to be "the
    early stages of a social justice movement in this country that we haven't
    seen in 20 or 30 years."
    "Bush's proclaimed 'war on terrorism' is really a war on American civil
    liberties," he said. "We have a president who was not elected but appointed
    by the Supreme Court in violation of the U.S. Constitution. He's engaged in
    unlawful, unethical foreign policy, illegally arresting immigrants and some
    citizens, and bombing civilians.
    "Dropping bombs on 3,500 civilians has done nothing to address root
    problems and did nothing to prevent future attacks.
    Cheney and Bush are the ones predicting the war will go on forever, and
    that's outrageous. ... This war on terrorism is cloaked in patriotism, when
    in fact it is a cynical attempt to solidify corporate control of our
    government and government policies." The Associated Press places Afghan
    civilian casualties at about 600.
    Robert Williams, a member of People Against Oppression and War and an
    organizer of the February Houston peace festival, said the organizers,
    financiers and perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks should have been
    arrested through multinational intelligence efforts and tried as criminals.
    "There's a whole body of domestic and international law to deal with these
    things," he said.
    "Early on, Bush tried to frame the attacks as an act of war. There are many
    reasons the administration did that. I believe war should be the last, the
    last, the very last means of achieving one's goal."
    Frances Isbel, a leader of the Houston Live Oaks Friends Meeting, reflected
    the diversity within the anti-war community. She agreed military action in
    Afghanistan was unwise but she was hard-pressed to offer an alternative.
    "Quakers have a fundamental belief that God's work can never be done with
    violence," she said. "That, of course, drives our peace testimony.
    "Sept. 11 was complicated for Quakers on a practical and spiritual level.
    Most people struggle with trying to understand the consequences of not
    taking action. While waiting for the perfect answer, 6 million people died
    in the Holocaust.
    "I think that, ultimately, we've only escalated the situation. How easy is
    that to say to someone who has lost a loved one on Sept. 11? There's a
    difference in not believing in capital punishment and in wanting to kill
    someone who just killed your daughter. I don't believe the action we took
    will lead to an answer to the situation, but, what should we have done? I
    don't know."
    David Smith, a College of the Mainland political science professor, avowed
    Marxist and co-coordinator of the Houston-to-Washington bus trip, said
    military action in Afghanistan "will not make our people safer."
    "In a nutshell, the United States has toppled the Taliban, which had no
    direct connection with the Sept. 11 attacks," he said.
    "As a researcher, I can tell you that the deepest roots of the al-Qaida
    network, if indeed they are responsible, are found in Saudi Arabia and
    Egypt, two of our allies."
    For security from future terrorist attacks, Smith contended, the United
    States needs to revise its foreign policy.
    "I don't think most of the Muslim or Arab people hate the U.S. people," he
    said, "but they are furious about the U.S. military presence in the Persian
    Gulf, its support for the kingdoms in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the U.S.
    support of sanctions against Iraq, which have killed more than 1 million in
    the last decade.
    "We really need a foreign policy that is more driven by a commitment to
    real peace with justice and less by giant oil interests."
    Despite the chilling effect Sept. 11 had on public discussion of these
    issues, activists believe the time is ripe for dissent.
    Buzzanco, an expert on the Vietnam era, formed the Houston Global Awareness
    Collective last summer in an effort to foment political discussion among
    his university students.
    "Sept. 11 changed everything," he said. "It created a whole new timeline.
    Doing anything by way of protest became more difficult.
    "We would just have a teach-in with 200 people, and people would come up
    and say, 'God, it's nice to hear that others have the same fear.' I find
    that when you talk to people, you'll find them willing to listen. Some
    people on both sides are rabid, and I do get a lot of hate mail. But I get
    more that says, ^A'Good job! I'm glad you said that.' "
    Reiter, who 33 years ago helped organize the first anti-Vietnam War march
    in Orange County, Calif., tapped similar sentiment in just talking with
    people on the street.
    "There is much deeper dissatisfaction with the political system as a whole
    now than back then" in the Vietnam era, he said.
    "Last time, we had arguments over whether the government was telling the
    truth. Now people know the government lies.
    There's a depth to the opposition now. There are all kinds of groups
    putting out good information and good research."
    Whether such protests will shape public opinion or government policy
    remains in question.
    Rice University political science professor Richard Stoll noted Bush's war
    on terrorism has wide public support, and doubted protesters, especially if
    espousing other unpopular causes, will have much impact.
    "First of all, if you look at Vietnam," he said, "what drove down support
    for the war wasn't protest, but the level of American casualties. We
    thankfully are dealing with very few American deaths in Afghanistan.
    "Number two, at many points in the Vietnam War, the public questioned why
    we were there, why it was important?" Most Americans, he said, understand
    why responding to the Sept. 11 attacks was important.
    Regardless of how receptive the general public is to anti-war messages,
    protesters' arguments were brusquely dismissed by Chesney and his friend
    Don Lowe, an ex-Marine.
    Asked about his opinion of war critics, Chesney blurted out an uncouth
    suggestion. Then he added, "They can do the same thing those Vietnam
    protesters could do. Send them over there. Let them live with those people."
    Conciliatory, Lowe offered that even war protesters are guaranteed freedom
    of speech. And Chesney, learning that the protesters shared his anger about
    the Sept. 11 attacks, softened.
    His family had a military background, he explained, and he was angry about
    the way some Vietnam War activists had insulted returning veterans. Chesney
    spent two tours in Vietnam on a Navy construction crew.
    "I told my officer, 'If anybody spits on me when I get back, I'm going to
    stomp his butt,' " Chesney remembered. "He just said, 'I won't see nothing.' "

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