Sunday, September 16, 2007
Vox Pop: How Has the War Affected You?
[Thousands turned out for the "die-in" on the Capitol lawn yesterday. Photo by ehpien on Flickr. I heard through friends there that the police estimated a turn-out of about 50,000 for the day's rally and march to the Capitol Building. Rounding out a week of entries on Iraq, I give you a little feature I was assigned for my journalism class. As I said before, a full D.C. report will come.]
Living in splendid isolation, 8,000 miles from Iraq, some Americans said last week that the war does not affect them.
“The war in Iraq hasn’t affected me, and that’s exactly the problem. That’s why the war continues to go on. No one is affected by it,” said James Mulcahy, 25, the Marketing Director of the stationary company Galison Mudpuppy Press.
“Screw the other countries,” said Robb Maynard, a junior at Eugene Lang College, the New School for Liberal Arts. “I'm not there.”
But the war has hit many Americans profoundly, in myriad ways. At last Saturday’s rally in Washington, D.C., organized by the umbrella group Answer to demand an end to the conflict, the radical effects were apparent. People were angry with the Bush Administration and divided amongst themselves over the Iraq war, which has claimed the lives of 3,781 American troops and an estimated 77,000 Iraqi civilians.
“We’ve never been that clean a democracy, but now we’re known around the world as torturers, kidnappers, murderers,” said Geoffrey Stetson, a Vietnam veteran from a town outside Orlando, Florida, referring not only to the war, but the Bush Administration’s policies. “They’ve violated the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Nuremburg War Crimes Tribunal, the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions,” Stetson said.
“These people are criminals,” he added, about the Bush Administration. “They need to go to jail.”
Stetson planned to join other war veterans in the day’s “die-in.” Some of his friends from the group Iraq Veterans Against the War had called on members of other veterans’ groups to join in a march to the Capitol Building. In the largest organized act of civil disobedience in the history of the war, they planned to lie in place on the Capitol lawn until police dragged them away.
News reports later that day said 189 people, some of them Iraq veterans in camouflage fatigues, were arrested in the “die-in.” Police had to subdue some protesters with pepper spray. Some climbed the wall dividing the lawn from the Capitol Building, so cops hauled them away in cuffs.
That morning, Stetson wasn’t worried about arrest—he said he gave a friend a duffel bag filled with $5,000 cash, in case he needed to post bail.
As the crowd grew, Corinne Mauricio, 19, a Muslim convert in a purple hijab fron Baltimore County, stood with her friend and watched the speakers on a large stage. “It affects me everywhere I go, whether I’m at school, whether I’m walking down the street, whether I’m taking out my trash,” Mauricio said. “I get stares. I get the blame.”
In the march down Pennsylvania Avenue, young protesters in punk clothes and wild hair, wielding giant yellow signs saying “End the War Now,” and counter-protesters, mostly tall men in military veterans’ caps holding American flags, screamed at each other.
A long line of metal barriers divided the protesters from the counter-protesters, who were posted on the sidewalk along Pennsylvania. Police officers told protesters to ignore insults and keep walking. One counter-protester still managed to rip a sign out of a marcher’s hand and tear it up. Another mocked a young guy with a bright-pink Mohawk.
“You still need to pick a hair color. You really do,” he yelled. “And get that scrotum-scratcher off your chin,” he added, referring to the kid’s mustache.
Two counter-protesters urged this reporter to join the military and serve in Iraq. One of them, an Iraq veteran in his fifties, said he joined the forces there, “so I can save your goddamn coward ass.”
Earlier that day, a tall, scraggly fellow stood in the “free speech zone” outside the White House, separated from the house’s front gate by two rows of metal barriers. He was screaming, so someone handed him a megaphone. “We are tired of your garbage, we are tired of your butchery,” he yelled, his voice hoarse. “We need education for the poor, not bombs and war machines.”
Word had spread that George W. Bush was out of the White House that day, on a special retreat to Camp David. Regardless, the man addressed Bush directly about how the war affected him. “My friend’s brother is dead in Iraq, you son of a bitch!”