Tuesday, January 30, 2007

why i got arrested at a peace protest

This is my first ever post to a blog outside of myspace. I'm pasting the following piece that i wrote and circulated after being purposefully arrested in protest of the "troop surge" announcement. I've revised it only slightly since that initial circulation (i basically corrected the typos). Here you go:

On Thursday, Jan 11, 2007, I chose to get arrested at a peaceful protest against Bush’s announcement of his plan to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq, which he had made the previous evening. The protest of about 100 people was organized quickly, and due to the inspired words of my friend, and the mother of my partner, who had simply reached a breaking point of frustration. She sent an email that was widely circulated, and reverberated rapidly through our community, saying that she personally planned to be at a prominent downtown intersection the day after the “troop surge”announcement, whenever that would be, bearing witness against her outrage. Later, national organizations like Move.On and UFPJ called for local demos on Thursday, when it became public that the announcement would be made Wed night. Here in Greensboro, the plans were laid well head of them.

There were 9 of us that chose to do civil disobedience that day. We stood, sat, and danced in
an intersection during rush hour around a neon orange 3 post sign that said "NO WAR! NO TROOP SURGE!" and refused to move when the cops told us to. I imagine we all had our own reasons for choosing this form of protest at this particular time, but I know there was certainly some common ground in those reasons. I’m not gonna attempt to speak for all nine of us. But I do want to explain my own reasons for stepping out of the bounds of ‘legal’ protest on that day.

For the past couple years, I’ve been closely following the bourgeoning movement of Iraq war resisters – soldiers refusing to go – and of veterans of the war speaking out against it. I’ve been deeply moved by their courage and sacracfice, and inspired bytheir commitment to getting out the truth of their experiences in Iraq and in the US military. From the high profile cases of refusers like Ehren Watada and Camilo Mejia, to quiet stories of desertions (there have been over 8000 since the war started), from watching the young organization Iraq Veterans Againstthe War (IVAW) grow into a large and powerful force onthe scene, to simply meeting people in my community who have deserted, or been there and now want to speakout against it, I’ve been increasingly convinced that these are the folx leading the movement. I’ve come to believe that it is an organized movement of military resisters and refusers that will ultimately put an end to this madness of perpetual war: when there are no longer soldiers willing to fight.

Soldiers who put themselves in this position do so at a tremendous personal price. Learning more about their risks and sacrifices, has forced me to think hard about what I am personally willing to do to make this war end. Am I willing to donate money? Am I willing to miss classes? Am I willing to hand out flyers, make phone calls, write letters? Am I willing to go to protests? Am I willing to go to jail? Without much deliberation, I found that the answers to all of these questions were YES, I am willing. And up until the 11th, I had done all of these things except go to jail. It finally felt like the right time.

Why? Our government went to war despite unprecedented international outcry, it lied to us about why, and it has been committing torture, deception, and murder in our names, despite our increasing opposition, for 4 years. When Bush made this announcement of more troops to Iraq, close to 70% of the population was ALREADY against his administration’s policy and wanted the troops OUT. The announcement of a troop surge signaled a government completely out of control of its people and hell bent on achieving selfish goals no matter what the cost. It was clear to me that this was a time for extreme measures. The next day must not be another normal day, we must not go on like everything is ok,we must not allow the moment to pass without serious disruption and attention to the gravity of the situation. An escalation of the war demands an escalation of resistance.

Those are all very emotional reasons. While valid they are perhaps a bit shallow without some attention to strategy. What would getting arrested achieve? How would we do it, at what cost to others, when, where… These were all things to consider carefully. Attempting to block a major intersection at rush hour seems like quite a disconnect from stopping a war onthe other side of the world, I agree.

The time and location of the protest was chosen based on visibility: a high traffic downtown intersection at 4:30PM. It was well attended, colorful and energetic. As expected, the reactions from passing commuters were overwhelmingly positive. There were a few TV cameras and some print journalist present as well. So why push it? Why go out into the street?

1) To get more media attention. The protest may have gotten a 10 second TV blurb and an honorable mentionin the paper on its own, maybe, but with the arrests we made the top story on 2 TV stations, and the frontpage of the local section of the paper. Those of us who have been going to local peace protests for years know that this is totally unprecedented coverage.
2) To create controversy. Linked to the press attention, we knew that people would be talking about it – the war, the arrests, what to do, what to think…people would argue, debate, take sides, do research, write blogs, comment on other people’s blogs…. Thet roop surge and the war would be a hot topic, and linked to a local issue, which it should be all thetime, but mostly its not. Now it is.
3) To inject some passion back into a beaten down, tired, and frustrated peace movement. This war has dragged on a long time, and a lot of us have gotten burned out trying to stop it, especially since it feels like we’re being ignored by the war makers. This also worked. With very rare exception, all the peace advocates I know feel a sense of excited possibility again, due to the arrests and the coverage they received.

Before closing, I want to comment on two other aspectsof the event, both of which have recived some media attention. First, the fact that one of us was brought to the ground with a tazer. This was completely unnecessary. That young man was doing exactly what we all were
doing – not moving when the cops asked us to move. This was blatant excessive force on the part of the police. Second, the fire truck that suddenly appeared during our brief time in the intersection was not impeded by our presence there. In fact the truck had been parked in
front of the courthouse for the entire hour of the demo prior to our step off the curb. Our intention was to get arrested, not hold the intersection at all costs. Had there been a
real emergency, we would have moved to let it pass and then reoccupied the intersection.

Finally, I want to ask you: if you support the continued occupation of Iraq by US forces, what are you willing to do to see it succeed? Are you willing to pay more taxes? Are you willing to miss work or school? Are you willing to make phone calls, write letters, distribute flyers? Are you willing to go? Are you willing to send your kids, spouse, or parents? And if you are against the continued occupation of Iraq by US troops, what are you willing to do stop it? Are you willing to sit an extra ten minutes in traffic? Are you willing to honk your horn in supportof people holding up signs? Are you willing to hold a sign yourself? Are you willing to get out of your car and join?

* You can come to our day in court on Wednesday,February 14th, 8:30 AM, at the Greensboro Courthouse.
* You can find out more: www.ivaw.net, www.couragetoresist.org, www.notyoursoldier.org,www.worldcantwait.org, www.unitedforpeace.org, www.warresisters.org, www.objector.org
* You can plan to take part in a local demo being planned
for March 17th, the 4th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.
Stay tuned for more details.

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