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Opening Eyes in Illinois

by madame defarge at Democracy Cell Project

On a sunny summer Sunday in the Chicago suburbs, over 150 people gathered in the Highland Park town square for the second time in 5 days to take a stand for peace.

This time, we gathered in commemoration of those souls who have given their lives to the American military involvement in Iraq. We were there to dedicate the first semi-permanent display in the country that's based on the touring display Eyes Wide Open.

For the next 30 days, people passing by will see a collection of combat boots, shoes, and red and purple poppies that sit in symbolic recognition:
- 50 combat boots representing the states and territories that have sacrificed their sons & daughters
- 100 pair of civilian shoes for the estimated 100,000 Iraqi deaths
- 100 red poppies for over 12,000 wounded and disable soldiers
- 200 purple poppies for the 1 in 3 soldiers who will return home with emotional and mental disorders

At our dedication ceremony, we heard from several guest speakers who have been working for peace in Iraq -- people who spoke out two and a half years ago before the war began when we were being told countless times about the infamous and non-existent weapons of mass destruction. And these people continue to speak out now, encouraging all of us to find our voice.

David Borris, a local resident, peace activist and member of the North Suburban Peace Initiative, persuaded us that if our collective action "saves one life...ends the war one hour earlier, it wasn't in vain."

Kathy Kelly, from Voices in the Wilderness told us about her conversation with a 16 year old Iraqi girl she met in Iraq during "Shock & Awe." "What is the fault?" the young Iraqi girl asked Ms. Kelly. "What have we done? What would happen to us if we did to others what you have done to us?" The young girl then answered her own questions with only two words: "Nagasaki. Hiroshima."

Linda Englund from Military Families Speak Out told us about her 23 year old adopted Korean son who has already earned two purple hearts and awaits being called up to return to Iraq. He enlisted in the military before 9/11 because he "felt he owed this to his country." As his mother asks, what does our country owe him? She encouraged us to pay attention every day to the changing reasons for this war and to ask the administration to send their own children and grandchildren to support this "noble cause."

Pat Vogel, another MFSO member, came to us directly from the airport, where she had just returned from Camp Casey. In Crawford, she spoke with other mothers of soldiers who said they were feeling "invisible, alienated" from their communities and their country. Ms. Vogel asked us to help her and others bear the burden with these mothers by speaking out with "truth to power."

Our solemn procession to the display site was led by a bagpiper playing "Amazing Grace." As we listened intently to the mother of a son killed in Iraq agonize about how this administration sent our soldiers to war without proper equipment, a big black, shiny new Hummer drove by.

We concluded our event by honoring the fallen with the sounds of a single bugler playing "Taps."

What now? Where do we go from here?

It is our obligation to our leaders of our country to ask questions like "Why?" and "When will the violence end?" And it is our obligation to demand the truth.

There are many ways to ask these questions and to start discussions within our own communities. Paul Vogel, Pat's husband, has been placing one small American flag for every soldier killed in Iraq in front of his Main Street business with a sign "Do you care?" A toy store in Iowa City, Iowa has had a display of small plastic soldiers in its front window, one for each U.S. casualty in Iraq. And now, in Highland Park, we have our boots, shoes, and poppies.

What can you do to make people in your community aware of the human cost of this senseless war? Please share your ideas, thoughts, and actions with us so that we may all find ways to convey "truth to power."



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