By Malachy Kilbride
Traffic had come to a complete standstill on March 19, 2003 at the intersection of 16th H Streets, NW by Lafayette Park across from The White House as a couple of hundred protesters gathered on the sidewalk. Around 21 people or so lay on the ground in the street blocking midday traffic in a die-in, an act of civil disobedience, just hours before “Shock and Awe”, the US bombing of Baghdad, was triumphantly announced by the Bush Administration and celebrated by US corporate news media.
I was participating in the die-in. I had never done anything like this before. I was scared. I had never been arrested before. What would happen to me? What would happen if my employer found out? What if someone in one of the cars was crazy and decided to run over us? What kind of car, I wondered, would run over me? I looked up to see what car was in front of me. It was a big SUV. “Blood for oil” I thought. Then Calmness, a peace, came over me. At that moment I felt I was in exactly the right place at the right time. I was doing exactly what I knew I had to do. I felt strangely in some kind of “alignment”. “This is where I must be!” I thought to myself. Little did I know that 10 years later the simple act of civil disobedience I engaged in would change my life and that I was now on a path of nonviolent civil resistance opposing US militarism and the violence of empire.
On that day in March 2003 I actually believed that there would be mass protests and arrests for civil disobedience across the US opposing the attack, invasion, and an occupation of Iraq. I remembered how in 2002 the antiwar marches grew in number and how just the month before I was in New York City joining millions around the world protesting the US path to war. I thought we could end things before it all got out of hand.
In September of 2002 I signed the Iraq Pledge of Resistance committing myself to an act of nonviolent civil disobedience if the US attacked Iraq. Six months later I was following through on that commitment believing people like me and those who weren’t led to do civil disobedience could stop the war and occupation in its early stages. I was wrong. But, somehow I became transformed that day in March 2003. I had crossed some kind of threshold. Nothing was going to be the same again for me. However, nothing was going to be same again for all of us.
Since the criminal attacks of September 11, 2001 look at some of what has happened:
September 12, 2001 to the present:
Muslims, Pakistanis, Arabs, and others become victims of hate crimes, are profiled by law enforcement, and are set up in sting operations by The Federal Bureau of Investigation supposedly looking for terrorists. This became a part of FBI repression that extended to activists across the US.
October 2001: Afghanistan was mercilessly bombed, invaded, and still remains occupied by the US.
October 26, 2001:
The US PATRIOT Act became law and still is the law. Our civil liberties were under attack and our constitution was in danger!
President Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech targeting Iran, Iraq, and North Korea which led to the Bush Administration’s John Bolton speech “Beyond the Axis of Evil” in which Cuba, Libya, and Syria were targeted, and then Secretary of State Condi Rice’s speech, “Outposts of Tyranny” in which Belarus, Burma, and Zimbabwe were targeted. Ten years later how are we doing with our targets? The war drums are sounding for Syria and Iran. Ten years ago did you think we would be supporting the French occupation of Mali? And we are now in Niger, but not looking for “Yellow Cake” uranium. Africom has landed!
All of 2002:
We were repeatedly lied to and deceived to get us into war. Thank you for your service Colin Powell! And thank you corporate embedded (in-bed) journalists, editors, and news media for your service to the empire! (The Washington Post, New York Times, and Fox News especially)
The US Government spies on peace activists and other nonviolent people exercising their First Amendment rights.
Corporations, especially telecommunications companies, cooperate with the government and police agencies in the spying on Americans.
The Abu Ghraib torture and abuse scandal awakens many Americans for the first time to the fact that we torture too.
The John Warner Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 signed in September 2006 and The Military Commissions Act of 2006 signed on October 17, 2006 gave President Bush expanded power to declare martial law and created the military commission’s tribunals for the Guantanamo prisoners and others.
The elections of 2004 and also in 2006, when the Democrats got control over the purse strings of the US Congress but failed to end the wars and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, had demoralized the antiwar movement. People thought their voices against the wars were being heard but were sadly wrong. Both parties were in the service of empire and the interests that profit from war, the banks, and the oil companies.
By 2008 a great groundswell of people rallied around the Obama presidential campaign believing that the Bush-Cheney years associated with war, torture, spying, and the curtailing of civil liberties would end. People wanted change and were promised it. There was hope! Obama went on to win with great popular support from the electorate and their aspirations for real change.
The first things we were told by the new president were that things would indeed change. We were told Guantanamo would close and government would be more transparent. To this day the Guantanamo prison camp is still open with a majority of the prisoners cleared for release but still held indefinitely. Over 100 are now on a hunger strike of over five weeks. Whistleblowers are prosecuted at higher rates under the Obama Administration than any other administration.
The economy took a nose dive with the housing crisis and the bank failures. People were getting shafted and felt the effects of the economic downturn. The banks got bailed out. The people didn’t.
The latest military instrument of war is the unmanned aerial vehicle, the drone as it is commonly called, and peace activists around the US have been organizing and protesting it in recent years. Since taking office in 2008 Obama has become The Drone President as the use of the drones has greatly increased inflicting huge numbers of casualties into the thousands in countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia. The president and his top advisers actually sit down and decide who will be killed by these extrajudicial death squads. US citizens have even been killed by the drones raising serious questions of constitutional rights and international law.
Our military budget continues to rise to record levels while the poor and those in need continue to grow. Can we keep living this way? It all seems so dire in the midst of all this darkness! Where is the hope?
Yes! I believe there is hope. Some of the hope comes from heroic figures who are just ordinary people who have done remarkable things. John Kiriakou a former CIA employee became a whistleblower when he revealed the use of torture by the CIA. He recently began a five year prison sentence for bringing transparency and truth to light. Brian Terrell has been in prison since before Christmas of 2012. Brian nonviolently witnessed at a US Military base against the use of the killer drones and was prosecuted by the government, convicted, and sentenced to 6 months in federal prison. Then there is US Army Private Bradley Manning, age 25 years, who has been held well over 1000 days now for revealing US war crimes in Iraq. He will go to his court martial trial in June and faces life in prison. He wanted his fellow citizens to know about these war crimes so a national conversation could take place about the role of the US in the world. Where are Bush, Cheney, Rice, and Rumsfeld these days? But, let’s not dwell on those who lied us into war and those who protect the war criminals and their torture regime. There is after all more hope to be found!
Thousands of people have not given up all across the US and continue to speak out, protest, and resist the militarism that is impoverishing us in many ways. I have met so many people since that day in March of 2003 who continue to inspire me. These are everyday people who have felt led to step outside of their comfort zones to dissent, get arrested for First Amendment activity, and by putting their bodies on the line speaking truth to power. Some are well known like Cindy Sheehan who lost her son Casey serving in Iraq in Bush’s war based on lies and deception. Cindy is now working with others all across the US preparing to wage the Tour De Peace  that will raise awareness about war and how we can abolish it. Yes we can!
One would never know from our corporate news media but hundreds all across the US have been organizing and resisting the use of the killer drones. Many acts of nonviolent civil resistance opposing the drones have taken place and the movement is growing and getting stronger. And let us not forget the Occupy Movement which highlighted the serious economic issues from the lack of adequate healthcare, the burden of student loan debt, the home foreclosures, hunger and homelessness, and the overwhelming influence of corporations over our lives and government. Public spaces may not be occupied now but many of the occupiers have gone on to do important work to help those being foreclosed and to challenge the influence of corporations over our political system.
One of the most important things I observed of the Occupy Movement was the creation of community. In Washington, DC I saw how the occupiers came together and created a village, a community, in which people could participate in a democratic process to solve their problems and advocate for their concerns. They became empowered through these egalitarian, democratic, inclusive, and supportive communities. By building community we have hope for challenging the for profit one percent controlled empire that is destroying life on this planet.
Ten years after Shock and Awe we need to reinvigorate the antiwar-peace movement and to do this we must work with those who are concerned about issues like the environment, the XL Keystone Pipeline and mountain top removal, working people and unions, those without access to proper healthcare, and with those working to end poverty to name just some of the issues we all care about. We need to come together and find common ground that is independent of the one-percent duopoly that controls our system. We need to work to build movements of united communities not political parties or to focus on elections in a system rigged against us. Our political system is based on the Enlightenment principle of the social compact and we need to consider how threatening to break that compact can be a tool in building the world we want to create.
The hope is with you, the reader, and your friends of like mind. I urge you to join a peace organizations, labor unions, or others working for change. Then push for change within that group. Make connections with others! Work for collaboration of efforts with other groups and communities.
Considering what we are up against, the most powerful military for profit empire in history that serves the super wealthy, we need to be mindful that this is long term work and we need to know that although we may see the mountaintop, we may not get to the Promised Land. However, maybe our children and grandchildren will live in the world we want to build. Our hope is in remaining faithful to our dream and to our work for what we are trying to create.
Malachy Kilbride is a peace and social justice activist who is on the coordinating committee of the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance. He works with Witness Against Torture, the Bradley Manning Support Network, and the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Peace Committee of Washington, DC