By Kathy Kelly
This past Tuesday, in Fairbanks, Alaska, nine people entered the office of Senator Ted Stevens to deliver their "emphatic request" that the Senator vote against supplemental funding for the war and then began reading the names of Iraqis and U.S. people who had died because of this war. They separated the names of U.S. troops by age. When ordered to leave, they were only half way through the commemoration of the twenty-one year old U.S. troops who died in Iraq. They began by reading the ages of the younger troops.
Seth Warncke, a University student, was issued a citation; Rob Mulford and Don Muller were taken to the Fairbanks Correctional Unit. They were released after being in jail for 23 hours.
Senator Steven’s staff worker in the Fairbanks office assured the nine peace activists occupying the office that their efforts were worthless. "The Senator’s aide told us that our action wouldn’t do any good," said Rob Mulford, "but when we were locked up I knew we’d done something good because a woman jailer spotted us in our cells and she said, ‘Oh! You guys are my heroes!’"
On a more somber note, Rob Mulford and Don Muller told me of a fellow prisoner whom they encountered in the correctional center. He was an Iraq war veteran, age 21. The guards were kind to him, but the young man was very disturbed and ended up fracturing his hand and fist, pounding a wall. After falling asleep, he repeatedly woke up, shouting and cursing, "You killed my friend, – I’m gonna’ kill you," and intermittently sobbing, "It doesn’t change. It never goes away."
Rob Mulford, himself an Air Force veteran and the local contact for Veterans for Peace, was watching from his cell.
Rob and Don are two of the several dozen people who’ve been arrested in the first two weeks of "the Occupation Project," a campaign to end U.S. funding for war in Iraq .
The same day, in Chicago, four women were kneeling in front of the Federal Building, chanting the names of Iraqis and U.S. service people killed in Iraq. Their statement read: "We are a poet, a doctor, a pregnant woman, and a grandmother. We are risking arrest today to publicly protest Senator Durbin’s refusal to vote NO on the president’s $93 Billion dollar supplemental appropriations request to continue funding the immoral and unjust war in Iraq. If Senator Durbin is against this war, he must stop funding it. We will occupy the lobby of the federal building until removed because we strongly believe that this war must end." These women will go to trial insisting that Senators Durbin and Obama have "the power of the purse," –the power to end this war not by submitting resolutions almost certain to be vetoed by President Bush, but rather by simply refusing to fund it.
The Occupation Project is developing, nationally, into a sustained campaign. We welcome participation, (see www.vcnv.org ), and encourage further nonviolent efforts to resist appropriations for military action in Iraq, or against Iran, other than funds to withdraw troops from Iraq. It’s wrong to fund killing and destruction in another country because people in that country oppose the Bush administration’s political agenda for their country. What is more, U.S. soldiers will be killed in carrying out this agenda, and thousands of Iraqi civilians will be killed in "collateral damage," people who may or may not be opposed to the Bush administration’s political agenda for their country.
The following day, Ash Wednesday, 25 Chicagoans held an ecumenical prayer service and then attempted to deliver a letter to Senators Durbin and Obama. Many in the group were clergy, vested in their clerical garb. They had gathered to pray for forgiveness, as a nation, for the times we all had not spoken out against the war. They wanted to assure that the Senators of Illinois heard their remorse and understood their opposition to the war and its ongoing funding.
But when they approached the Federal Building, security officials quickly locked all entrances to the Federal Building. A member of Senator Obama’s office staff told the assembled group that all staff members were in a meeting, but that they definitely wanted to receive their letter. Unfortunately, security officials at the Federal Building said nobody could enter. When a high school student who had joined the prayer service placed a cell phone call to Senator Durbin’s office, he was disappointed that the staff member there hung up the phone after a very brief exchange. Eventually, three of Senator Durbin’s staff members emerged from the Federal Building to receive the letter.
The constitution insists that congress shall make no law abridging the right of people to assemble peaceably for redress of grievance. We bear a terrible grievance as we exercise our responsibility to end the "war of choice" waged by the Bush administration.
As the Occupation Project develops, we carry, shoulder to shoulder, the responsibility that comes with hearing an agonized cry, epitomizing the horror of the consequences of war: "It doesn’t go away."
Until the U.S. stops funding war in Iraq, we cannot go away either.