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Eugene Weekly : Coverstory : 3.13.08

 

MARCH. SING. LAUGH. PRAY. CRY.

Meeting the fifth anniversary of Iraq invasion with community resistance

BY SUZI STEFFEN

In the face of an ongoing war (or wars) on several fronts with military actions that are costing the U.S. trillions of dollars and almost 4,000 lives — not to mention costing the world hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan lives — what's a peace-loving Eugenean to do?

Why, what she did decades ago during the "police action" in Vietnam: Rally. March. Sing. Laugh. Pray. Cry. And come together with many others in pursuit of justice, in pursuit of building coalitions, in pursuit of peace abroad and at home.

Betsy Steffenson leads the Peace Train in the 2007 Eugene Celebration Parade. Photo: Ted Taylor
CALC at the 2007 Eugene Celebration. Photo: Ted Taylor

A simple task or two, right? But the many options in Sunday, March 16's "Sowing the Seeds of Peace" events aren't limited to those experienced with protesting the Vietnam War, says the Take Back America coalition's Michael Carrigan. Carrigan, development director for the Community Alliance of Lane County (CALC), feels especially good about a rally at the UO that kicks off the day. With student organizer Zach Barasaba and speakers ranging from the UO's MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan) to the director of the Black Student Union and the ASUO president, the UO rally's set to start making connections.

Why an on-campus rally?

Diego Hernandez, a student senator and MEChA member who's on the Multicultural Center staff, explains: "The rally will bring in students who don't have cars, and it sends a big message when the press takes pictures of campus rallies."

UO student and veteran Noah Mrowczyski, who served with the Oregon National Guard in Iraq from 2004-2005, says that it's important to keep the wars in the news. "I'm in dismay. I just think it's unbelivable that this is the fifth anniversary," he says. "You have to really stop and think — and make a bunch of noise. Hey, people, there's a war going on!"

Speaking of making noise, the student rally culminates in a march called "Look! The Empire Has No Clothes" that will go from the UO to the old Federal Building at 7th and Pearl. Last year's march on the fourth anniversary of the invasion seemed a bit dispiriting, Carrigan says, so this year it will be more celebratory of the various groups working for peace. "It's going to be a hopping, powerful parade," Carrigan says. Samba Já, Eugene's "mobile percussion ensemble," will meet the parade halfway, and Betsy Steffenson notes that the Peace Train (famous from many a Eugene Celebration parade) will play its role.

"It's a fun and festive theme to encourage people to come and take part," Carrigan says. He knows that staying hopeful isn't easy for activists who have been working for peace, whether that work has been over decades or the past few years, so it's important for part of the day to include celebration of the connections among various activist groups.

The second rally of the day starts at the Federal Plaza around 2:30 pm, once the parade arrives. That's when the diversity of coalition interests will fully emerge with a call for peace and justice on many fronts. "Not everyone knows everyone else's issues," Hernandez says, so the speakers at the Federal Building rally will both be educational and inspirational. "It shows that we're willing to stand up for all of the issues we care about." Speakers include Savannah Martin, a Springfield High School student whose speech draws parallels between Iraq and Vietnam and between the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Beyond Vietnam" speech and the day's events.

Claire Syrett, a speaker and field organizer for the Oregon ACLU, says that although the ACLU doesn't take a position on the war and therefore hasn't spoken at any of the previous rallies, the focus of this rally is slightly different. "There have been a range of issues with how the war has been prosecuted," she says. The ACLU's concerns include "the denial of habeas corpus rights to prisoners in Guantanamo, whether our forces and the people in our employ have tortured people and are planning to use evidence gained from torture in court, and the president's warrantless wiretapping," she says.

Other speakers include Mayor Kitty Piercy, Lane County Commissioner Pete Sorenson, Josh Schlossberg of the Native Forest Council, Ibrahim Hamide of the Middle East Peace Group (and Café Soriah), Jefferson Smith of the Bus Project and Bob Watada, father of Lt. Ehren Watada, last year's star speaker who was the first commissioned officer publicly to refuse deployment to Iraq. Local fave Iana Mathews-Harris will perform spoken word, music will come from Beth Rose and Friends, and the MCs are Carmen Urbina and Johnny Lake.

How is the Native Forest Council, for instance, related to the war in Iraq? "The issue isn't just about stopping the war; it's about making connections between Iraq and what's happening here in Oregon," Carrigan says. "Josh has eight examples of how the Iraq War is similar to the WOPR plan. It's not enough to say, 'Stop the war.' We need examples of what people can do to create peace in our community," he adds.

The ACLU's Syrett says, "Part of the purpose is reminding people that they have a right to be involved in the process — they have an obligation to be involved in the process."

Opportunities to be involved don't stop with the end of the rally. There's a "Party for Peace" event at Cozmic Pizza starting around 4:30 pm with the Skinnery City String Band, Urgent Carnival Political Theater and many more groups.

The day closes with a solemn candlelight vigil. Peace activist Betsy Steffenson says that the vigil is nonpolitical and more serious. "I've been on this committee to plan these events for years, and I don't feel celebratory. It's Palm Sunday, and some people want to be a bit more reverent," she says. So she and others have organized a reading of the names of 101 Oregonians who have died in the actions in Iraq and Afghanistan and an equal number of Iraqi civilians who have died during the past year. "There are no speeches at the vigil," she says. "There will only be candles, music and the honoring of human beings who have died." Some of those reading the names are a group of students in LCC's culinary program, veterans of Vietnam and Iraq, Northwest Christian College students, the peace caucus of the Democratic Party of Lane County and religious and spiritual groups.

Sponsors of the day-long call for peace include Eugene PeaceWorks, CAUSA, Cottage Grove Stand for Peace, the Justice Not War Coalition, the Oregon Country Fair and a number of other local groups.

So: Rally. Parade. Rally. Sing. Pray. And keep up the fight — or rather, keep up the peace. "This brings people together to send a strong message that we want the war to end," Carrigan says, but it also "strengthens connections among groups, making for a more powerful coalition. It's only by working together that we can stay positive and work to end this war."   

 

ON THE COVER

EW staff and interns compiled and interwove names of U.S. and Iraqi War dead from the websites Iraq Coalition Casualties (icasualties.org/oif) and Iraq Body Count (www.iraqbodycount.org).

 

 

Watching the War

Documentaries make the case

By Molly Templeton

Three of this year's five Oscar-nominated documentaries were about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (The other two were about the American health care system and Ugandan refugee children. Cheery stuff all 'round). Last year, two of the docs ventured into Iraq — will next year's nominees cover just the one topic? Over the course of 2007, plenty of fiction films also came out that focused on the Middle East, though they were generally less well received; it seems people are more interested in actual happenings than interpretations, at least at the moment. But it'll be interesting to see how Boys Don't Cry director Kimberly Peirce's Stop-Loss fares when it's released. Until then, this quartet of films might give anyone plenty to think about.

 

IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS: An Oscar-nominated film from 2006, Fragments depicts the lives of ordinary Iraqis. In three parts, the film focuses on an 11-year-old auto mechanic, looks at the specifics of local politics and the Moqtada Sadr movement, and explores the lives of Iraqi Kurds seeking independence. In the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan wrote that "this one demands to be seen."

 

NO END IN SIGHT: First-time filmmaker Charles Ferguson creates a searing timeline of the mistakes made on the ground in Iraq and in the Bush administration in Washington. Ferguson lays out his evidence, piece by piece, until the resulting indictment is utterly impossible to ignore. Critics said the movie didn't show them anything new, but it's not a film in search of something new; it's a film to remind us just how and why things went wrong.

 

MY COUNTRY, MY COUNTRY: Like Iraq in Fragments, My Country, My Country is concerned with the lives of "ordinary" Iraqis and their lives under U.S. occupation. Director Laura Poitras focuses on Dr. Riyadh, who is a critic of the occupation and a passionate supporter of democracy for his country.

 

OPERATION HOMECOMING: WRITING THE WARTIME EXPERIENCE: Richard E. Robbins' film is connected to a book of the same title, a collection put together by the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA's "Operation Homecoming" initiative collects the writings of soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — and that of their families. Actors including Aaron Eckhart and Robert Duvall read the soldiers' writings, while writers and former soldiers such as Tobias Wolff speak about their experiences in earlier wars.

 

TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE: The film that won this year's Best Documentary Feature Oscar explores abuse in connection with the detainment and interrogation of political prisoners. A New York Times reporter's investigation of the death of an Afghan taxi driver — a death the military claims was from natural causes — is at the film's heart. "Alex Gibney's Taxi to the Dark Side is the documentary that many of us have prayed for, the one that could break through even to people who relish the torture set pieces on 24 and will hear no evil about the War on Terror," wrote New York magazine's David Edelstein.

 

All these films are available on DVD except Taxi to the Dark Side, which should come to the Bijou soon.