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Passing the Torch From One Generation to Another
By Marty Webster
They came in on the red eye special, or on chartered buses. They slept in cars and took turns driving, some even camped on the Capitol Mall. VVAW members from all across the country came to protest the Iraq war and the sending of more soldiers to be placed in harm's way to help perpetuate a lie.
Yes, VVAW was there. The old and the young. Comrades embraced and reminisced. New members from around the country met others for the first time. All were reminded of a war in southeast Asia, somewhere between time lost, and time found. A place most have forget. A place some can never forget.
The "old guys" and a new generation of Veterans. The 'Nam combat vet and the children, and grandchildren of those who were sure that years ago, they had sealed the fact that their children and children's children, would never have to participate in an event such as this again.
They came to join over 500,000 demonstrators in a massive march on our Nation's Capitol on Saturday, January 27. Some vets rode in wheel chairs or leaned on canes, limping from wounds sustained in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the first Gulf War, and now sadly, the Iraq war.
Aaron Hughes leading the national IVAW and active duty soldiers delegation
In addition to Gold Star Mothers for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, and thousands of other antiwar activists, students, religious groups, and unionists, the most significant aspect was the participation of Iraq Veterans Against the War and the active duty soldiers who marched in civilian clothes.
The demonstration also included a wide variety of social organizations such as those involved in the Katrina struggle, environmental activists, defenders of the poor and underprivileged, and the famous "Raging Grannies," who consider the war in Iraq and Afghanistan - and their human, political and economical costs - a main issue for every US citizen.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), who was near the front of the march, spoke with the Capitol Hill Police officers and demanded that the police move the buses they were using to blockade a portion of the parade route. Perhaps in deference to the new Democratic congress, perhaps in deference to a member of Congress, or perhaps in deference to over 500,000 US citizens, the police moved the buses.
The demonstration was so huge that it was impossible for groups and organizations to stay together. A surge of protestors, in their creative and exuberant spirit, partially dispersed the Veterans contingent. At first, cohesiveness appeared diluted, but the unified voice of resistance became a gratifying show of solidarity.
Cadence from the veteran's contingent became the order of the day and a defiant chant:
"Hey, hey, Uncle Sam, we remember Vietnam,
Combat vets don't want your war, peace is what we're marching for.
Bring our troops back to our soil. Iraq vets say NO blood for oil.
Guns to shoot and bombs to drop, all this killing has to stop
They wave the flag when you attack, when you come home they turn their back,
We don't want your Iraq war, peace is what we're marchin' for,
Am I right or wrong? (you're right), are we weak or strong (we're strong)"
"Sound off" "One, two"
"Sound off" "Three, four"
"Bring it on down" "One, Two, Three, Four, …One, Two… THREE, FOUR!!!"
When the veterans contingent passed by, onlookers yelled and cheered. The vets responded with the cadence. Often the crowd joined them. Soon, everyone was one mass drill team. Then, a new crowd would notice the vets and it started over. And over. And over. For over two-hours, the chanting continued. "I cannot over-emphasize the impact this had on me and the crowd," said a Veterans For Peace member. People came over saying, "Thank you for serving our country and thank you for being here."
Jane Fonda, with extra large VVAW button
Bob Watada, father of Lieutenant Ehren Watada, the first officer who refused to be sent to Iraq for considering it an "illegal"war, marched with Jonathan Hutto, an active duty Marine, and more than 300 relatives of American men and women serving or killed in Iraq.
Jaime Vazquez wore his olive drab Marine tunic with nearly a dozen combat medals pinned to it including the Purple Heart and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry. Vazquez, now Jersey City's Deputy Mayor for International Affairs, served in Vietnam with the First Marine Division from 1967-68. "I was hit with 70 pieces of shrapnel," Vazquez told the world as he marched. "I still have eight or nine pieces of metal buried inside me."
"I learned one lesson: to struggle for peace and understanding," Vazquez continued. "I think we rushed into this war on Iraq. We have lost all the goodwill around the world that we got from the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. Anybody who doesn't believe this is a war for oil and global power is deluding himself."¨
Cherie Rankin was dressed in the Red Cross uniform she wore as a nurse in Vietnam. "We decimated the population of a very beautiful country," she said. "I feel very intense grief for our soldiers, their families and for all the Iraqi people."
The mobilization, called for by United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), began with two hours of speeches in front of the capitol on the National Mall, followed by the march which deviated from the route that Capitol Police approved and ended up encircling the Capitol. The original march route would have had the peace activists sharing one road. Observers say they have never seen such a march route before. It had activists chanting and marching towards each other. It was the first time any demonstration was so large that it completely encircled the Capitol.
Reverend Jesse Jackson, who was one of the speakers, said that the conflict in Iraq is causing a war against the poor here at home . We do not need more troops in Iraq. What we need is more funds for the poor here at home.
Actress Jane Fonda, long-time activist and friend of VVAW, took the microphone and said it was the first time in 34 years that she took part in an antiwar demonstration because "silence is no longer an option." "I'm very sad we still have to do this, since we didn't learn the lessons from the Vietnam war," she added.
Standing on her toes to reach the microphone, 12-year-old Moriah Arnold laid into the policies of George W. Bush as she told the crowd: "Now we know our leaders either lied to us or hid the truth. Because of our actions, the rest of the world sees us as a bully and a liar." Somehow the voice of this sixth-grader from Harvard, Mass., resonated more loudly than any adult in attendance. The youngest speaker on the National Mall stage had also organized a petition drive at her school against the war.
Actors Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon also spoke up, as well as several legislators, including long-time Veteran's advocate John Conyers, the new chairman of the Judicial Committee from the House of Representatives, and his colleagues Maxine Waters and presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich, among others.
The march around the Capitol was to express the demonstrators main message: to demand Congress put an end to the war and to stop the sending of more than 20,000 additional troops that president George W. Bush has ordered, as the center of his new strategy for the war. Shortly after that, there was a massive rally in the large park located across the Capitol.
In addition to this march in Washington, over a 100 other simultaneous protests took place around the country, including a massive march in Los Angeles and a smaller one in San Francisco.
Gene Glazer of New Jersey, a medic in Europe during World War II said, "We were fighting fascism then. We are here today to stop the Bush agenda of world domination. We're already being primed for the next war: Iran, North Korea, or wherever Bush wants to go. This is not the American way. My America is a defender of democracy. Today we are the aggressor. I wear a black arm band in mourning for my country."
Cindy Sheehan, the mother of Casey Sheehan a US soldier killed in Iraq and perhaps the most famous face of this movement against war, participated in the march that took place in Los Angeles.
VVAW Kentuckiana contact Carol Rawert Trainer and her husband Harold arrived several days early to visit the offices of members of congress. They then joined with hundreds of activists who remained in Washington to carry out an intense lobbying campaign among legislators on Monday, in the second stage of the struggle to force Congress to stop Bush's war-like policy.
On January 27, 2007, a torch was passed from VVAW to IVAW, from Jane Fonda to 12 year-old Moriah Arnold. It is sad that such a rite of passage is necessary. The old, however will never abandon the new, all, will carry the banner together, for such is the way of honor.
Perhaps such demonstrations are not recognized by the Bush administration, nor accepted with credibility by the mainstream media either. Maybe they are only for us. Perhaps, however, they will serve as a reminder to all who attended, or those who watched on TV, and to those numbering in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, on the internet, that VVAW is still around, and we are alive and well, and we remain in the vanguard of a movement that will not tolerate this insane war. Many years ago VVAW pledged that never again would one generation of veterans abandon another generation of veterans. That is reason enough to demonstrate.
Marty Webster is the VVAW National Organizing Secretary.