Friday, December 04, 2009

Obama Announces Troop Surge - Bellingham Residents Hit the Streets!

United States of America

BELLINGHAM, WA - Hours before Obama would announce his plan to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, approximately 160 students, veterans, and community members hit the streets of Bellingham to protest the troop surge.

Many protestors were especially outraged because voters elected the Democrats to have full control over the White House and Congress, hoping they would end the disastrous occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, Obama is escalating the war in Afghanistan. And he is escalating it only one week before he receives the Nobel Peace Prize!

The protest was organized by Socialist Alternative, which established a branch in Bellingham only two months before the protest. Everyone was inspired to see the decent turnout given how new Socialist Alternative is to Bellingham and because the protest was planned in only one month.

The protest was reported in The Bellingham Herald, the Western Front, the Cascadia Weekly, and possibly more media outlets. Socialist Alternative members Brett Hoven and Ramy Khalil also got a guest opinion column published in the Western Front. Scroll down to see the photos and all the media coverage!

The appearance of antiwar protests organized by Socialist Alternative and other groups across the country also suggests that a majority of Americans are growing weary with the Afghanistan War and are increasingly willing to publicly challenge President Obama on this issue.
For many students, this was their first protest, and everyone seemed to really enjoy the rally and especially the march, which was very energetic and spirited. As one student, Zach Snover, put it: “As my first experience protesting and marching, I could really feel the power students could achieve through united action. And I really loved the chant: ‘Show me what democracy looks like! THIS is what democracy looks like!’”

The protest was co-sponsored by the Whatcom Peace and Justice Center, Veterans for Peace Chapter 111, Coffee Strong, World Can’t Wait, Youth Against War and Racism, Young Dems of Skagit County, Food Not Bombs, and the Whatcom Community College Bike Club. Socialist Alternative would like to thank all of these groups for their support, their speakers, and their efforts to get the word out about the protest, especially the Whatcom Peace and Justice Center.

Proponents of war often criticize the antiwar movement for not “supporting the troops.” Yet this rally featured numerous veterans speaking out against imperialist wars. Among them were Gene Marx, the head coordinator of Veterans for Peace Chapter 111, whose son has done two tours of duty in Iraq. James Gillies, a Vietnam veteran, also shared his personal experiences with U.S. imperialism in Southeast Asia 35 years ago and the little good that it had accomplished, drawing parallels with Afghanistan. Evan Knappenberger, an Iraq war vet, also shared his personal experiences and questioned how the U.S. military could possibly help the people of Afghanistan and Iraq when it doesn’t even take care of its own soldiers and veterans.

The speakers from Socialist Alternative, Lindsay Worley and Jake Silberman, questioned the benefits of the costly occupation of Afghanistan for ordinary Americans and Afghans, especially women, when funds for jobs and education are being slashed every day. Aditi Kaushik, a social justice activist from India and a member of Socialist Alternative, talked about the occupation’s failure to improve women's rights in Afghanistan.

A small counter-protest was also held. Four conservative student activists came out to heckle the crowd, chanting slogans such as “Let the surge work!” But they were met with a cold reception by the antiwar crowd. All in all their presence only served to strengthen the resolve of the crowd which, at one point, drowned out the counter-protesters with a sea of voices chanting “troops home now!” The counter-demonstrators’ overall effect on the protest was minimal, especially given that they offered no clear solutions for ending the war in Afghanistan, which has been dragging on for eight years and getting worse.

The rally was followed by a march that that began in Red Square and traveled throughout campus before heading downtown to U.S. Congressman Rick Larsen's office. Many community members and people who had to work who could not join us honked and clapped in support as we marched by.

Rep. Larsen’s staff had been invited to come downstairs and talk with the crowd that arrived at his building. Unfortunately, though, they refused to come out and talk with all 160 protesters as a group. Instead only a few activists were able to talk with Larsen's staff in his office, and they delivered a letter to him protesting his support for the troop surge, especially because he is a Democrat.

In the end, it was highly encouraging to see so many students and community members come out and challenge Obama to end the occupation of Afghanistan. It was also highly encouraging to see so many new young members of Socialist Alternative getting involved in planning and participating in the rally and march.

Report by-

Ramy Khalil and Logan Steele

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