Report From D.C.: Intense Engagement With Thousands

by Debra Sweet

World Can't Wait activists were on the streets of Washington Sunday through Thursday of this inaugural week, in a cold, somewhat exhausting, and intense engagement with thousands of people. I met people on the World Can’t Wait elist there, and many new people who care about humanity. Our group -- ages 20+ through 60+ got into the fray, and suffice it to say, we will be remembered as people think about what we challenged them with.

We had two large orange banners:

"STOP OCCUPATIONS & TORTURE FOR EMPIRE!" and "PROSECUTE BUSH WAR CRIMES NOW!" Along with the ARREST BUSH signs, these were hugely popular, and it would have been simple to leave it at that. But we went into the inaugural crowds, and among the antiwar movement, with a challenge to think critically about where Barack Obama is leading, and face up to that reality. Quite a few people didn't want to hear it; some did, and many of you who did have been added to our elist. Welcome.

SHOE BUSH January 19: Muntadhar Al-Zeidi, the Iraqi reporter who threw his shoes toward Bush during a news conference in Baghdad in December, gave people all over the world the idea of throwing shoes to protest Bush and US crimes. Al-Zeidi was reportedly beaten and held without visitors for a month, and faces years in prison for his righteous outburst. Thousands of people threw shoes at an inflated Bush in Dupont Circle. While I spoke at the rally, a mock waterboarding (with real water in sub freezing temps -- much appreciation to our crew who got soaked) and the presence of people in orange jumpsuits from Witness Against Torture made the challenge of ending the US torture state real.

Then, 500 of us marched to the White House, where we threw shoes toward the White House fence and around lots of police. More at http://shoebush.org/ Thanks to Vanissa Chan for her photos of the action. http://www.flickr.com/photos/vanissa/sets/72157612904853607/

DIE-IN against OCCUPATION, Union Station, Washington: As people arrived in DC to celebrate, we wanted to confront them with what the "good war" in Afghanistan means: civilian deaths. About 90 people joined in (sorry for those who could not find us -- the station was jammed) and we estimate 10,000 people saw the bodies and heard the speakers, snapping thousands of photos. Slowly we were surrounded by Homeland Security, expecting to be dragged out. But we went on almost two hours, with flyers and posters distributed through hundreds of individual discussions.

It was good to have members of Vets for Peace, Code Pink, Iraq Veterans Against the War, ARREST BUSH and impeachment activists from around the country with us. Read Jill McLaughlin on the action.
http://worldcantwait.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5332:conviction-and-courage-in-the-face-of-the-obama-disconnect-speaking-truth-inside-dcs-union-station&catid=117:homepage&Itemid=289

No Common Ground with Bigot Rick Warren. On Monday, Rick Warren spoke at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta at the Martin Luther King birthday celebration. Because of Warren's church policy of not allowing gays or lesbians as members, and his major funding of Proposition 8 in California, which removed the right to marry for same sex couples there, there was mass anger at Warren. About 100 people protested outside Ebeneezer, while supporters of World Can't Wait were inside the church. Sunsara Taylor, of the World Can't Wait Advisory Board, stood up with a banner, and called him a bigot, later joined by others. The full story & video are at:

Video here
http://worldcantwait.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5334:rick-warren-protested-and-disrupted-during-mlk-day-speechcalled-bigot&catid=117:homepage&Itemid=289.
Larry Jones has been writing about Warren.
http://worldcantwait.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5333:pastor-rick-warren-and-adolf-hitler-whatever-it-takes&catid=117:homepage&Itemid=289

Abortion & Birth Control for Women Everywhere! When the anti-abortion "March for Life" came into DC on Thursday, we knew they would march to the Supreme Court. A few of us helped hang a banner in the student center at the Catholic University of America, where Robbie Diesu is a student, and where thousands of anti-abortion activists were staying. The banner said "Her body. Her choice. Her life to decide. Free Speech at CUA!"

Usually only anti-abortion protesters are visible on January 22, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in the first three months of pregnancy. But we met nine students from a Catholic high school who came with their pro-choice signs, including one which said "Catholic educated, but not brainwashed." Many other students in town for the inauguration had their photos taken with us, and locals thanked us for being present to counter the anti-abortion group. After some of us left to return to New York, however, Robbie was tackled, twice, from behind, and his sign was torn by someone from the "March for Life."

Why Call Obama a "war president?" Worldcantwait.org has an Obama Watch going, already documenting the responsibility of Barack Obama for attacks on civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Unmanned drones made two strikes into Pakistan, killing women among what the Obama administration says were Taliban. And, re the "good war" in Afghanistan:

The Associated Press reported January 24 that "Hamididan Abdul Rahmzai, the head of the provincial council in Laghman, said village elders arrived at his office hours after the early morning operation to complain that the 15 killed were innocent civilians. During a call from an Associated Press reporter, Rahmzai relayed questions to the village elders directly, who angrily shouted that they would swear on the Quran, the Muslim holy book, that all those killed were civilians. The elders claimed that women and children were among the dead. The villagers told Rahmzai that they are shepherds and have no ties to militants. The New York Times reports today that village elders and the pro-US central government agree that 13 civilians were killed and 9 wounded.

Afghan officials say that when U.S. forces raid villages in their hunt for Taliban fighters, they end up killing civilians and ultimately undermine their cause.

Juan Cole, at Salon.com today in an article headed, "President Obama, meet Lyndon Johnson" writes, "The Bush administration launched 30 air attacks on targets in Pakistan in 2008, killing 220 persons. The strikes seem to have started in the summer, during the presidential campaign, about a year after candidate Obama began urging this policy. Bush may have instituted the aerial attacks to deny Obama a campaign talking point and to prevent him from out-hawking John McCain. That is, Obama may have pushed Bush -- who had earlier been wary of alienating Pakistan – to the right." http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2009/01/26/obama/

As a friend just wrote me, the people in Pakistan don't have the luxury of adopting a "wait and see" attitude about Obama's intentions in pursuing the so-called "war on terror."

THANKS, MOM: Jean Sweet's comments were posted the Wisconsin Network for Peace & Justice site, excerpted here:

My proudest moment in 1935 was at Girl Scout Camp when as a leader of the Color Guard I raised and later lowered the flag at sundown. After years of brutal wars in Vietnam and Iraq my concept of patriotism has totally changed. That's why in my daylong date with CSPAN Tuesday, not wanting to miss a single moment of our exciting change of presidents, I was struck by the so-called patriotic flag-waving fervor of the crowds, the overwhelming presence of military and security, the officers at Obama's side to teach him presidential military duties as the troops marched by.

Later noting Obama's words about war in Afghanistan, my husband said, 'I am disappointed in Obama. I think he will be a war president.' Charles had witnessed in 1945 the slaughter of innocents when he was part of the U.S. forces attacking Okinawa. He is now a Veteran for Peace.

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