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October 9, 2011

Demonstrations across the country mark 10th anniversary of Afghanistan war

Demonstrations, die-ins, marches and occupations took place across the country on Oct. 7 and 8 marking the 10th anniversary of the Afghanistan war. In the last decade, thousands of Afghans have lost their lives, 1,700 U.S. service members have died and over 40,000 have been wounded. ANSWER Coalition members and activists organized or participated in several of these events. Below are reports from some of the cities where actions took place.

San Francisco

San Francisco - 10th anniversary of the Afghanistan War 10-07-11
San Francisco
Photo: Bill Hackwell

A solid 800 protesters gathered at the opening rally at the Federal Building for the protest initiated by the ANSWER Coalition.

The rally featured speakers from several groups: Omar Ali from Youth and Student ANSWER, Nathalie Hrizi from Teachers for Public Education, Jiddou Sirker from the Progressive Students' Union (Oceana High School), Dr. Henry Clark from the West County Toxics Coalition, Stephanie Tang from World Can’t Wait, Chito Cuellar, head of the Hotel Division of UNITE HERE! Local 2, and Steve Patt, National Committee to Free the Cuban Five. Carla Romero and Cameron Zaidi, fourth-grade students from Buena Vista Horace Mann school, also spoke at the rally.

Other contingents represented included: students, parents and teachers from Horace Mann, AF3IRM, BAYAN, Party for Socialism & Liberation, Peace & Freedom Party, Unitarian Universalists for Peace, FMLN and SF October 2011 Solidarity Coalition

After a spirited rally, the march took to the streets, with demonstrators chanting “Occupation is a crime from Iraq to Palestine!” and “Money for jobs and education, not for war and occupation!” At Powell and Market, the protesters engaged in a die-in symbolizing the cost of this criminal war in human terms.

From there, demonstrators moved up Powell Street through the heart of downtown San Francisco, chanting “El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido!” and “They say cut back, we say fight back!”

With picket signs pumping and banners flying, the demonstration marched to the Grand Hyatt in solidarity with the picketing hotel workers who have been struggling for a contract with the notoriously ruthless ownership. A union chanter-supreme, Alphonso Pines, led the crowd in “We’re gonna boycott! We’re gonna shut it down! San Francisco is a union town!”

A rally followed with powerful speakers from the hotel workers, Richard Mead, president of ILWU Local 10, and Richard Becker of ANSWER. The march took to the streets again for its final destination—the Financial District. As the protesters approached the Federal Reserve, also the location of the Occupy SF encampment, the occupiers and their many and growing supporters joined in the chant “Occupy SF, not Afghanistan!” After an hour- long rally with nearly 2,000 people, the closing chant rang out loud and clear: “We’ll be back! We’ll be back! We’ll be back!”

Washington, D.C.

Washington DC - 10th anniversary of the Afghanistan War 10-08-11
Washington, D.C.
Photo: Michael Prysner

Several days of action organized by the Stop the Machine coalition began on Oct. 6. The demonstrations are ongoing. On Saturday, Oct. 8, a series of marches protested war and militarism through the tourist-filled areas downtown.

The largest march began at the Occupy DC encampment at McPherson Square. A multinational contingent that included several people from the winter occupation of Madison, Wisc., and members of March Forward! marched to Stop the Machine to pick up other protesters.

The energetic group of 2,000 passed through a busy downtown to enthusiastic receptions from workers and tourists on its way to the National Air and Space Museum. They had planned to enter the museum to protest an exhibit about the unmanned aerial drone attack vehicles that currently terrorize the peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere.

Vigorous chants called for "Money for jobs and education, not for war and corporations!" and "We are the 99 percent!" Upon reaching the museum, security guards attacked the front of the march with pepper spray. This led to an impromptu occupation of the museum entrance, which forced its closure for two hours.

Shortly thereafter, a second march of combined Stop the Machine and Occupy DC members took a circular route to the White House in order to pass through busy neighborhoods, where they received another raucous response. Before stopping for a brief rally outside the White House, the group of 500 occupied a street corner in Chinatown and took the steps of a bank across the street from the Treasury Department.

Albuquerque

Albuquerque - 10th anniversary of Afghanistan War, 10-08-11
Albuquerque
Photo: Preston Wood

Over 300 protesters gathered Oct. 8 in front of the University of New Mexico bookstore in Albuquerque for a march and rally to protest the 10th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, and to demand an end to corporate greed and corruption.

The protest was called by the Albuquerque Coalition Against the Wars, which included ANSWER New Mexico (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), Stop the War Machine and Vets for Peace. The militant demonstration was also supported and attended by scores of participants of Occupy Albuquerque, part of the national movement inspired by the Occupy Wall Street actions in New York City.

The protest began with short and militant remarks by leaders of Albuquerque's diverse progressive movement, including representatives of Stop the War Machine, Vets for Peace, and Students for Justice in Palestine. ANSWER organizer Jordan Whelchel spoke about the necessity of fighting imperialism as part of the struggle for social and economic justice at home. "Millions of Iraqi and Afghan people have died as a result of imperialist plunder," he said. "We have to unite in solidarity with working people everywhere, and fight to end the U.S. government's endless wars and occupations for empire."

Following the speakers, the protesters participated in a dramatic and moving die-in. To the sounds of bombs and missiles exploding, the protesters fell on the ground as if lifeless. After the bombing sounds, people slowly rose to their feet chanting "Rise up! Fight Back! Rise up! Fight back!”

The people then poured onto Central Avenue for a militant march through the streets. Chants like "What the hell is Congress for!” “We want money for jobs, not for war!" and "Who's got the power? The people got the power!” rang out.

Protesters boldly marched into several banks along the way, including Wells Fargo and Bank of America, carrying signs and banners against the war and against corporate greed. Demonstrators then marched right into a Walmart to the astonishment and support of Saturday shoppers, chanting militantly: "Tax the banks! Jail the bankers! End corporate greed!" The Albuquerque police, known for their brutality and disdain for civil rights, were unable to intimidate or stop the large and militant crowd.

After the successful demonstration, Joel Gallegos, ANSWER New Mexico coordinator, called on all present to stay in the streets. "This is where the power is, and we are that power. We will not rest until a new system is won by the people, that serves the people, and not the rich 1 percent. We are sick and tired of them, and they have to go!"

Chicago

Chicago - 10th anniversary of Afghanistan War, 10-08-11
Chicago
Photo: Ana Santoyo

Bringing incredibly militant energy, youth and large numbers with them, Occupy Chicago protesters joined a mass march on the 10th anniversary of the Afghanistan war. In total, 2,000 people participated in a day of opposition to Wall Street’s wars.

Loud chants sustained the marchers during a warm afternoon. Among the popular chants were “People over Profits, Troops Out Now!” and “How Do We Get Our Jobs Back: Tax, Tax, Tax the Rich!”

The march was very popular, especially on State Street, a working-class shopping area. When marchers starting chanting “Off the sidewalk and into the streets,” more than a few people did exactly that—they joined the march. One such person, Erick, an African American man, said: “Whatever you guys are doing next, I want to do that. We need stand up now for something better. Too many people are suffering.”

After the march, many walked over to join Occupy Chicago, which has been protesting at the Federal Reserve for nearly three weeks against the domination of the country by the 1 percent that hoards all the wealth.

ANSWER Chicago provided their mobile sound for a speakout and mass chanting session. Dozens of people spoke out against the injustices they are facing. Immigrant, LGBT and Black youth spoke out. Students as young as 15 denounced the bankers for getting huge bailouts while they and their friends cannot get a job or afford or to go to college. Young women railed against the attacks on abortion rights. Anti-war activists connected the wars abroad with the attacks on working people at home

It was not only Chicago that was represented at the speakout. Pipefitters from Cleveland were there. A transgender woman from Springfield, Ill., was there. Students from Austin, Texas, Pittsburgh, Pa., San Jose, Calif., and beyond were there as well.

Oct. 8 in Chicago showed that the fight against the billionaires is on.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles - 10th anniversary of Afghanistan War, 10-07-11
Los Angeles
Photo: Ben Huff

Some 400 people gathered to condemn the decade-long U.S. occupation of Afghanistan for a protest and die-in Oct. 7 organized by the ANSWER Coalition.

The crowd was multinational and young with some members of Occupy LA joining the action in solidarity, connecting the wars abroad to Wall Street profits at home.

One man in his late 60s, Henry Howard, put it bluntly: “There is no way they [the U.S. military] would be able to perpetuate their lies and recruit people to fight Wall Street's war. They use the idea of 'job security' to lure young working-class people into the military and then use them as cannon fodder for the rich.”

Speakers included Jim Lafferty, director of the National Lawyers Guild, Blase Bonpane from the Office of the Americas, Angel Bartolome of AF3IRM and Peta Lindsay from the ANSWER Coalition. After the militant speakout, protesters held a mass die-in at the peak of the demonstration to symbolize the massive loss of life in the ongoing occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq.

The demonstration of hundreds came at the heels of an earlier demonstration against the wars comprised of mostly clergy members and supporters. The ANSWER action closed with the pledge of the crowd to keep taking to the streets until the end of the wars.

Seattle

Seattle - 10th anniversary of Afghanistan War, 10-07-11
Seattle

In Seattle, the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Afghan war nearly merged with the Occupy Seattle action.

As Occupy Seattle began to get off the ground, it hadn't yet been decided where in Seattle people would hold the occupation. Initially, people were protesting daily outside the Federal Building. At the General Assembly on Sept. 30, it was decided to start occupying Westlake Park, a centrally located plaza in downtown Seattle across the street from a shopping mall and a transit hub. It is also the location of many free speech activities.

By Oct. 2, there were about 40 tents up. Within two days, the city had responded with threats to Occupy Seattle, “asking” that the tents be taken down. Mayor Mike McGinn issued a statement in which on the one hand he claimed to be in agreement with the aims of the Occupy Movement, while on the other hand he insisted that the tents must come down.

Particularly infuriatingly was his reference to the Oct. 7 anti-war demonstration to mark the 10th anniversary of the Afghanistan War, and the Oct. 8 International Indigenous Peoples Day event, both permitted activities, as a reason why Occupy Seattle should not have tents in Westlake. The mayor tried to make it seem as if Occupy Seattle would be preventing anti-war activists and Native people and their supporters from holding their activities.

Jane Cutter of ANSWER Seattle was down at Westlake on Oct. 4, leafletting the crowd to let them know about the anti-war action coming up. Jack Whitehouse, an organizer with Native Peoples Alliance with Friends and Allies, and also a member of ANSWER, showed up and was mingling with the Occupy Seattle folks. An impromptu rally ensued and Cutter made a speech in which she welcomed everyone to participate in the Oct. 7 and 8 activities, stating that the struggles were interconnected.

As she stepped away from the microphone, an activist popped out of a tent and showed Cutter the mayor's statement from the city website on her phone. Cutter immediately walked up to Whitehouse and they agreed to issue a press release condemning the mayor's attempt to pit protesters against each other. The statement went out late that night and was picked up on the Stranger's blog and was also posted on the Occupy Seattle Facebook page. A local NPR affiliate, KPLU, ended up interviewing Cutter as well.

The following day, Oct. 5, the city held true to their threats and arrested more than 20 Occupy Seattle members and confiscated all the tents. Occupy Seattle determined to hold strong and remain at Westlake no matter what. The mayor began to back down, and made a statement that he was “providing” a temporary permit to Occupy Seattle to remain in Westlake (with one “organizing” tent) and offering permission to set up overnight tents at City Hall plaza. Occupy Seattle has taken this on advisement and will make decision about the offer on Oct. 9.

The anti-war protest was sponsored by ANSWER, World Can't Wait and Veterans for Peace #92. People gathered at Seattle Central Community College where Cutter and Emma Kaplan of WCW ran down the game plan for the action. A spirited march down to Westlake ensued. At Westlake, more people were waiting for the rally at Occupy Seattle. A die-in took place as the media snapped photos of the action.

What followed was a people's speakout against what Dr. Martin Luther King once called the triple evils of poverty, racism and war.

Several veterans spoke of their experiences serving imperialism and how that made them want to fight to make a better world. The crowd cheered when Lyle Mercer, a WWII vet and member of VFP #92, spoke out to give encouragement. Timothy Bedwell, 25 years old, a Navy veteran and member of March Forward!, explained that he joined the military because he was poor and felt he had no other choice if he wanted an education. Serving in the Navy in oppressed nations in Asia, he saw how people lived under the boot of U.S. imperialism, and it changed the way he saw the world.

Others spoke about how they were sick and tired of tax dollars being spent on immoral and illegal wars, and about the impact of military spending on social needs at home. Nina LaBoy, a long-time peace activist in Seattle, held up a strip of paper representing Obama's proposed budget, 60 percent of which will go to the military, not including veteran's benefits (which are being cut.) One young woman spoke of how she cannot find a job, or even be a volunteer, despite her many skills, because she is a convicted felon.

A particularly moving moment came as the crowd raised their fists to say “Troy Davis, Presente!” and cheered as Cutter condemned the racist death penalty and the criminal justice system. A young man named Abdi closed out the rally by reading a poem he had written that beautifully summarized many of the issues that had been raised.

Syracuse

Syracuse - 10th anniversary of Afghanistan War, 10-07-11
Syracuse
Photo: Ashley Sauers

ANSWER Syracuse joined a march of over 100 people in Syracuse, N.Y., Oct. 8 in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement. Occupy Syracuse began on Oct. 2 and has rapidly garnered support from a wide range of members of the community. The issues being protested were clear: End economic inequality, corporate greed and U.S. occupations overseas.

The protesters marched through downtown Syracuse, passing towering bank buildings and boarded-up businesses. The group loudly proclaimed, “We are the 99 percent,” as many passing cars honked in support.

ANSWER Syracuse led the “Occupy Syracuse—not Afghanistan!” contingent, leading anti-war chants and distributing anti-war literature throughout the march.

The march ended with a rally at the Occupy Syracuse encampment at Perseverance Park, directly in front of the local Chase bank headquarters. Another march is being organized to take place on Oct. 15 at 2 p.m.

New York City

NYC - Flyer for 10th anniversary of Afghanistan war, 10-08-1
Flyer distributed in NYC

As the Occupy Wall Street movement enters its third week, members of the ANSWER Coalition fanned out in Harlem, the Bronx and other working-class neighborhoods on Oct. 7 and distributed thousands of flyers entitled "Occupy Wall Street—Not Afghanistan!"

The flyers drew the connection between massive unemployment, growing poverty, cutbacks in education and other vital programs, and the murderous occupation of Afghanistan, which cost $120 billion in the last year alone.

Imperialist war in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya is a source of super-profits for the corporations, banks and the 1 percent who dominate political and economic power in the United States.

Jonathan Miller, Preston Wood, John Beacham, Sarah Carlson and Adrienne Garcia contributed to this report.

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