2012: A year of action by anti-war veterans and GIs
March Forward! looks back at a year of building the GI movement
December 28, 2012
Dear friends and supporters,
In the midst of deep economic crisis, the United States’ longest war, and new bombings and threats against sovereign people around the world, 2012 was a year packed with actions and initiatives by March Forward!.
March Forward! is dedicated to building a movement of veterans and active-duty service members to create a dynamic front against U.S. war and militarism at home and abroad, and to stand up for the rights of veterans and our sisters and brothers all over the world who areunder attack by the U.S. government. As we prepare for a new year of struggle in 2013, we’d like to review our actions over the past year.
On a day-to-day basis, our team works very hard to bring regularly updated analysis and commentary from veterans and GIs on our website MarchForward.org, which has provided rapid-response statements to issues facing U.S. troops and their families from an anti-imperialist perspective, raising our voices as an essential part of public discourse and bringing our anti-war program to service members throughout the U.S. military. These statements are often turned into leaflets and distributed all over the country on college campuses, protest actions and even on U.S. military bases.
March Forward! members across the country are dedicated activists on a variety of issues, always in the streets bringing in the connection between issues we face at home and U.S. war and militarism abroad. In addition we regularly provide one-on-one counseling services to youth thinking of joining the military, and active-duty service members who need assistance averting deployment, getting benefits or who want to raise their voices against the Pentagon.
Here is a brief recap of March Forward!’s work in 2012:
Building veteran support for Occupy: We began 2012 as active participants in the Occupy movement all across the country. March Forward! joined our allies in Veterans For Peace to establish Freedom Plaza in October 2011, then joined the Occupy Wall Street encampments from coast-to-coast. Several members were arrested, pepper-sprayed defending Occupy encampments; but ultimately, we brought the issues of war and militarism to the movement wherever we could, with a main goal of bringing more and more veterans and active-duty troops into the Occupy movement.
Fighting for Bradley Manning: On December 16-17, 2011, March Forward! joined the national mobilization to defend Bradley Manning, from Los Angeles to Quantico. Our members even painted a massive 60-foot banner to use in banner drops over busy highways. We’ve continued to both organize and support actions for Bradley Manning throughout 2012.
Victory! Soldiers organize to defeat unjust lockdown: In January, we intervened in a struggle among active-duty soldiers in 4th Battalion 9th Infantry stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash. There over a hundred soldiers were unjustly placed on lockdown (essentially meaning detention, without the ability to see their families), being lamed for an officer losing equipment. Our members on active-duty in 4/9 Infantry distributed hundreds of leaflets with the demand “Free 4/9!” and popularized an online petition signed by soldiers, military families, and supporters. The post general insisted the lockdown would not be ended until all the missing equipment was recovered--but after just one day of internal organziing and generating media pressure, the lockdown was ended and the soldiers in 4/9 defeated their command.
Standing against U.S. aggression towards Iran: On February 4, March Forward! mobilized for nationwide actions under the slogan “No threats, no sanctions, no assassinations, no war on Iran.” As part of the national coalition, March Forward! spent countless hours around the country building these protest actions, bringing veterans into the united front against the U.S. war drive, but ultimately to politicize active-duty troops against potential war with Iran.
Victory! Helping soldiers resist deployment to Afghanistan: Also in February, we won a major victory for the right of soldiers to resist war, when our first member to file as a conscientious object was successfully won an honorable discharge. Spc. Daniel Birmingham not only refused to deploy to Afghanistan for moral reasons, but was a vocal advocate for his fellow soldiers to resist too, doing media interviews and distributing literature as March Forward! waged a public campaign for his discharge. We are also engaged in helping several other service members in the conscientious objector process, who have not yet made their cases public.
Victory! Exposing the suicide epidemic: Much of our work has centered around exposing the criminally inadequate treatment for service members with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In 2011 we received national and international media coverage for our organizing at Fort Lewis, breaking now-famous cases of Sgt. Derrick Kirkland and SSG Jared Hagemann, but kept up the pressure throughout 2012. As a result the top two psychologists at the post hospital and the mental health commander, Col. Dallas Homas, were relieved from their positions during the investigation, and more that 300 cases where solders were denied a PTSD diagnosis were overturned as a result of the pressure.
Breaking into the media: In March, March Forward! leader Kevin Baker appeared on Democracy Now! raising the issue of mistreatment for PTSD, with the ultimate message for service members that the suicide epidemic proves that service members have the absolute right to refuse to fight in Afghanistan. We have also generated regular coverage on Press TV, Russia Today and other networks.
Victory! Defending rights of soldiers with PTSD: In April, March Forward! began organizing in defense of member Spc. John Etterlee, an active-duty Iraq war veteran with PTSD who was being abused and punished in his unit for PTSD symptoms. As he was facing strict disciplinary action, we helped him speak out publicly about his mistreatment, and organized thousands to call his chain-of-command to demand “Hands Off Spc. Etterlee!” As a result, Spc. Etterlee’s command dropped their attempts to punish him, and he is now set to be honorably discharged.
Counter-recruitment in working-class high schools: In June March Forward! members Ethan McCord, Kevin Baker and Mike Prysner worked with local peace groups to speak in more than a dozen working-class high schools in southern California, telling young students the truth about military service, ensuring that none of them made that grave mistake. March Forward! members continue to speak in high schools throughout the county on a regular basis.
A bold new campaign--raising the banner of refusing to fight: In June, March Forward! launched our most major initiative yet, the Our Lives Our Rights campaign, aimed at promoting and organizing resistance to the Afghanistan war within the military. The campaign went viral, receiving millions of hits in just 2 weeks, reaching service members throughout the military, and bringing a new layer of veterans into the movement. The campaign was recently co-sponsored by our ally organization Veterans For Peace, as we work to bring the message of “You don’t have to go to Afghanistan” to all U.S. service members.
Victory! Defending the right to go AWOL: In August, March Forward! rallied around the case of member Sgt. Brook Lindsay, a 3-time Iraq war infantry veteran who went AWOL in protest of his mistreatment and pending deployment to Afghanistan. Sgt. Lindsay spoke out publicly at the press conference announcing the launch of the Our Lives Our Rights campaign and was an advocate for other service members to follow his example. March Forward! provide housing and legal support while Sgt. Lindsay was AWOL, while waging a public campaign. In the end Sgt. Lindsay received an honorable discharge with full benefits. March Forward! has also assisted other AWOL soldiers who have not made their cases public.
Fighting the Afghanistan war in the streets: Throughout September March Forward! mobilized for actions marking the 11th anniversary of the criminal war in Afghanistan. Members took lead organizing roles in Los Angeles in San Francisco, bringing hundreds into the streets on October 7th. In LA, March Forward! led an action that shut-down the major Army recruitment center in Hollywood.
At the doorstep of the US Army--"You don't have to go to Afghanistan!": On October 8, March Forward! embarked on its boldest action yet, deploying to Fort Lewis as a brigade was preparing to leave for Afghanistan. March Forward! and VFP brought the demands of the Our Lives Our Rights campaign to the front gates of Fort Lewis, spending a week of aggressive outreach and visibility to soldiers encouraging them to exercise their right to resist deployment. Active-duty soldiers on base joined the effort, covering the post with thousands of leaflets and stickers. It was the first of many “deployments to stop a deployment,” which we hope to make our main focus in 2013.
All of these actions and initiatives demonstrate the dynamism and uniqueness of our organization.
Now is a critical time to be reaching out to active-duty troops and building resistance to the war machine within the military and among veterans. The timeline of events above is just an example of the things we can accomplish in 2013 with your help.
Mike Prysner Iraq war veteran co-founder, March Forward!
In response to the catastrophic, immoral war in Afghanistan and the ceaseless epidemic of military suicides, active-duty U.S. troops along with Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have launched a nation-wide campaign to educate and assist service members about their right to refuse to fight. Read more.