Occupy DC: No to drone strikes


By Malik Siraj Akbar

In March 2003, Colonel Ann Wright ended her twenty-nine year military and sixteen-year prolific diplomatic career in protest against George Bush’s invasion of Iraq. She played an instrumental role in reopening the US embassy in Kabul in 2001 soon after the collapse of the Taliban regime. A decade after the Afghan war, Wright admits that the war has now trickled down to Pakistan.

“We apologise very much to the people of Pakistan for the horrible, horrible things our government is doing in your country,” she told Dawn.com while referring to drone strikes as she joined several protesters at Washington DC’s Freedom Plaza on Sunday to mark the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the war in Afghanistan.

Like other protesters, Ann has established her camp just two blocks away from the Capitol Hill in a unique movement they have named as ‘Occupy DC’. Unlike the much hyped up ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protest, Occupy DC remains largely unreported in the mainstream American media, the swiftly popularising non-violent movement is calling for curbing the undue influence of corporations and ending America’s wars overseas.

In what some observers equate with 1960s Civil Rights Movement, the fresh wave of peaceful protests began in New York City with the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ demonstrations predominantly by disillusioned educated unemployed American young men and women.  While the protests in New York continue to gain momentum, more agitations are being reported from other principal cities.

In Washington DC, the protesters at McPherson Square are mainly seeking internal policy review while the second group at the Freedom Plaza is emphatically calling for an end to the war in Afghanistan.

The US Department of State had awarded Ms. Wright, 74, the Award of Heroism in 1997. After her resignation, she was arrested in April this year in front of a Syracuse air force base for protesting against drone attacks. Now she says she does not regret quitting an illustrated career as an army officer and a veteran diplomat to continue to publicly oppose America’s wars overseas.

“It is sad that in the United States we do not have a tradition of mass resignations over flawed government policies. In England, there were five times more resignations against [Tony] Blair’s complicity with [George] Bush in Iraq. Fifteen officers resigned in England while only three did so in the United States,” she recalled.

Ms. Wright, whose book Dissent Voices of Conscience narrates the story of officers who revolted against illegal government practices, says young American officers are weary of what she terms as ‘crimes’ her country is committing in the Muslim world.

“Our young men and women say they volunteered to join the army to serve their country not to commit crimes. There are at least 40 instances when men and women refused to go and serve in Iraq,” she said.

Concerning the mounting anti-Americanism inside Pakistan, she says drone attacks in tribal region are “rightfully infuriating” the population because thousands of innocent villagers are also being killed in these operations.

“American politicians are tragically war-mongers. It is horrible the United States continues to think wars are an answer.  It is sad that the our government decides who, in and outside the United States, has a right to live or to be killed with drones without being provided a chance to defend themselves in a court,” she added.

Jonny Kranz, a twenty-nine year old New Yorker who says he will continue to camp until the complete pullout of US forces from Afghanistan, bills drone attacks as “completely unethical”.

“The army considers human losses as collateral damage. Drone attacks are not just killing particular people but they are bombing entire villages and killing innocent civilians. It’s absolutely horrible that we even have that technology. It is ridiculous that I am against human killings but still my tax money is spent to buy drones without my consent,” he said.

Mark Vosburgh, a protester from Washington metropolitan area, said America’s wars overseas had deeply affected the Americans in terms of putting them in debt.

“I have a daughter who is growing up in heavy debt,” he pointed out, “The wars are bankrupting us. All our taxes are being used for wrong purposes to run the war machine against our brothers and sisters all over the world. In our movement, racism has no place. We care for our brothers and sisters anywhere in the world.”

Protestors at Occupy DC have an energetic presence at the Freedom Plaza where they play revolutionary music in mega loudspeakers, stage thought-provoking and often hilarious anti-war, anti-corporations dramas and display placards condemning the war in Afghanistan.

“Money for jobs and schools— not wars,” said one placard from Answer Coalition, an anti-war group, while a poster by another organisation, March Forward, read, “Afghanistan: Another war for the rich.”

The protesters circulated a free post card addressed to President Obama saying, “Dear President Obama, our military budget is nearly equal to the amount spent by all of the other countries of the world combined. How much do we really need to spend to defend ourselves?”

A graphical illustration of US expenditures on the same post card an organisation called Not My Priorities said Washington spent $574 Billion on the Pentagon and another $159 billion in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Michael Beer, the executive director of Nonviolence International, a global resource of peaceful movements, said America’s polices of war have been ‘absolutely detrimental” to the national security.

“The Afghan war is always been very poorly supported by the American public. A lot of us are outraged over our country for killing so many people even we don’t’ knowing why we are killing these people,” he said and reminded that 50 million Americans did not have health insurance while another 50 million remained unemployed.

“Despite this, our government’s foreign policy is making us unsafe because it is waging wars, particularly against the Muslim world, which means we are making enemies for generations to come.”

Beer termed the drone attacks as “appalling” and promised to fight to force the American government to stop employing violence against unarmed civilians.

“The drones are outside any international law. They are killing and injuring thousands of people. This kind of assassination war is outrageous,” he said.

The American uprising, some critics say, is too vague about its demands and lacks a road map.

The protesters, on their part, say they know their movement will require some time to mature and accomplish its goals.

“Love is too big to fail”, read a placard a young student from Pennsylvania, Thomas Morgan, tightly held in his hands.

“It will take a long time as it has already taken a long time,” he said. “There have been times when love has been tired and there have been times like now when love was frustrated but love has never failed. Love is too big to fail.” (Courtesy: Dawn.com)

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