Live from Iraq


By Stewart Nusbaumer

Surviving in Mosul Stuggling to survive after a horrific explosion.

Street Without Joy
Will Bush’s surge secure Baghdad’s bloodiest block?

Good Morning, al-Adhamiya
In one of Baghdad's most dangerous neighborhoods.

Squiring Out Of Baghdad
Is the surge ending or dispersing the insurgency?

With PTT in Heet
A Marine unit training and equipping the Iraq Police.

Embed in Trouble
What is a journalist to do with attacked by a U.S. Army biggie? Go to the bigger?

Four Days in Dulab
In a small, dangerous town in the most violent province in Iraq.


 

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  Articles & Essays: Crossing the Line to Save Lives

 
 
At the White House 370 patriotic Americans walked around the barrier, sat on the pavement, and were carried off to jail.
By Stewart Nusbaumer

Washington, DC -- "We are doing this because it is the 922nd day of this war," says Nancy Lessin, co-founder of Military Families Speak Out, "because 1,918 service men and women have been killed in a war that should never have happened."� She hesitates, but only briefly, "And many more men and women have died in their souls."

On Saturday several hundred thousand protestors marched in the streets of our nation's capital, the largest antiwar protest since the Vietnam War. Two days later several hundred protestors -- 370 to be exact -- were arrested on the sidewalk in front of the White House. It appears the antiwar movement is back.

At noon on the Eclipse lawn just south of the White House, nearly a thousand protestors separated themselves into two columns. One circled from the west while the other circled from the east, joining in Lafayette Park in front of the White House.

Walking toward the White House, protesters in the east column chant: Not my Son, not my Father. You want war? Send your Daughters. Not my Son, not my Father. You want war? Send your Daughters. Not….

"I'm walking to the White House to be arrested," a white-haired woman says. "It feels strange, mostly because it feels so right, and it's good to do right." Her brown eyes radiate gentleness, but also determination.

Interesting, there is barely a young person in the procession. This is middle-age and senior-citizen radicalism, maybe the only radicalism left in our morally battered America.

Although unsure what to call their action -- variously referred to as civil resistance, direct action, nonviolent resistance, nonviolent aggression, pacifism -- they know exactly why they are performing the action. They say the war is a cancer eating the moral base of America, a wrong war that is slaughtering thousands of innocent Iraqis and decent Americans. The war has become a terrible fire at the center of their lives, day and night. It is time to break the law, in a nonviolent way, to begin ending this unnecessary, immoral, and illegal war.

As we make our way up 15th Street, I would estimate there are about 350 marchers in this column, at the front a bell rings approximately every fifteen seconds. There is quiet discussion among the protesters, but when passing patches of spectators they flash peace signs, smile and encourage them to join the march. A few demonstrators shove clenched fists above their heads. In front of the American Bar Association building, a group of women return the peace sign, but at the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, two men stand with arms folded across their chests, straight faced. From the Bar to the Appeals it has gone from broad smiles to stern faces. This is a country divided, polarized, and at war, in Iraq and at home in America.

A paper sign taped to a man's shirt says: "Sgt. Jeffery C. Walker, Ha De Grace, MD, 08 Jan 2004." Nothing else; actually, nothing else is needed.

The protestors' signs are fewer, blander, and smaller than during the mammoth demonstration on Saturday. "End The War Now" is prevalent, as is "Impeach Bush," also "Remember the Dead, Resist the War." But the emphasis today is not on communication, but on action. Not to demonstrate the strength of antiwar sentiment in America, but to demonstrate the resolve of good Americans to end this bad war.

Still, some signs cut deep: "Zainab Kassim, 5 years old, 3/25/03." What the sign does not say, your mind thinks: 5 year old lying in a pool of blood, 5 year old without ... 5 year old dead.

Closer to the White House, the police are more numerous, standing with legs spread, holding large wooden white sticks that contrast with their black pants and combat boots. The tension grows palpable, more for the police than for the demonstrators. There is, however, increased nervous chatter in the procession.

At the top of Lafayette Park, the two columns of protestors meet and merge, then turn into the park and face "the house of war," as one demonstrator called the White House.

These civil disobedience protesters view themselves as part of an honorable American tradition, one that includes the Boston Tea Party, the fight to end slavery, the struggle for women's right to vote, the battle to end the Vietnam War, and now the Iraq War. As role models they embrace the nonviolent teachings of Martin Luther King and Henry David Thoreau and Mohandas Gandhi. They realize that sometimes breaking the law is preserving morality. That is why they will now break the law.

Grounds for Arrest

The protestors inside Lafayette Park, possibly a thousand, direct their rising anger at the White House. Some chant in unison: Liar, Coward, say it Louder! Liar, Coward, say it Louder! Others scream individually: Chickenhawk! ... What noble cause, you imbecile?

Between Lafayette Park and the White House is a walkway, which used to be the street before being blocked off, in the middle of which has been erected a metal barrier. To cross this barrier means "risking arrest," this is what everyone is told by the organizers, but the media is told it can cross without risking arrest. As we make our way through the barrier the target of the demonstrators' anger suddenly shifts:

We are going to hold you accountable media!

You have blood on your hands media!


"Forty-one were arrested this morning at two entrances to the Pentagon," says Bill Dobbs, a spokesperson for United for Peace and Justice , the antiwar coalition. "The War Resisters League did that action."�

Journalists suddenly sprint to the White House guard house. By the time I arrive, the police are screaming for everyone to back up. I'm pushed back by retreating journalists. A policeman charges into the crowd, swinging both arms, shoving bodies backward. More police follow. It’s ugly, pushing, shoving. A tripod on a backpack smacks me in the face. I stumble backwards, bodies behind keep me from falling to the pavement.

The Whole World Is Watching, The Whole World Is Watching chants the on- looking protestors in the park. Only the police can create sympathy for the media.

A small contingent of demonstrators -- Gold Star mothers, including Cindy Sheehan, combat veterans, military family members, clergy -- went to the White House gate and attempted to deliver to President Bush the names of all the soldiers and civilians killed in Iraq. The President refused to meet with them, probably busy working out on his bicycle, and as they were departing the Police decided force was in order and began abusing the media.

Not that I'm totally opposed to abusing the media, but not when I'm media.

With an army of journalists in hungry tow, the surrounded group walked slowly to the center of the walkway, sat down on the pavement, and began praying. I couldn't see them, since I lack the hunger to elbow my way to the news -- these hysterical surges are always led by the hungriest of the hungry, photographers and camera men -- I settle for a comfortable view of media poles and bags, cameras darting for the best angle, photographers with cameras over their heads, enveloping the group.

A black iron fence and a manicured green lawn are all that separate the half dozen protesters from the "house of war." Praying in front of the White House, however, is not allowed, so the tranquil are ordered to move on or be arrested. This shoots the media into a higher frenzy for the facts.

"All media on the other side of the tape," a potbellied policeman instructs, while unrolling yellow tape to mark the boundaries of our new "pen." "Media in here, now!" "Other side of tape," a policeman growls at me. Another pleads, "I'll try to help you out, those other guys will just lock you up." A journalist next to me responds, "Good cop/bad cop," and sighs.

A man standing on the pedestal of a lamp post inside the "pen," wearing white shirt and tie, waving a Bible, screams at the White House, Murderous traitors! I wonder, does he have media credentials? If not, maybe he should.

Eight mounted horses arrive, then five police vehicles -- two vans, two trucks, and one bus -- and more police. Three times the police warn those sitting on the pavement to leave, otherwise they will be arrested. More protesters sit on the pavement, a new rush is on. Each was handcuffed and led by two officers to a police vehicle and then driven to jail. This would take many hours, the police preferring not to gum up the efficiency of their booking house.

And for some time, the protestors chanted: Arrest The Real Criminals! Arrest The Real Criminals! Arrest The Real Criminals!

Voices of America

Three hundred and seventy Americans arrested, few had ever been arrested before. Good, patriotic, law-abiding citizens don't get arrested in America -- unless America is breaking the law.

There was Al and Joan Baker. Their son Sergeant Baker was killed in Iraq, the first Pennsylvania National Guardsman to die in combat since World War II.

There was Linda England and her sister Donna Stevens. Linda's son served in Iraq, was awarded two Purple Hearts for wounds and a Bronze Star for valor.

There was Pat Aliviso from Huntington Beach, California, whose son is now a Marine in Iraq.

There were members of the clergy not preaching about morality but acting morally -- combat veterans fighting another war -- military family members trying to survive this war-- ordinary citizens becoming extraordinary Americans. None of whom were shackled to any ideology, except the ideology that terrible wrong must be vigorously challenged, nor driven by any political agenda, regardless of what the pro-war pundits claim. Their inspiration comes from a clear, uncomplicated moral voice that refuses to shut up: "Wrong is wrong, right is stopping wrong." So they crossed the line to stop wrong. Then they went to jail.

The media reported Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey died in Iraq, who camped outside George Bush's ranch for the month of August, was arrested. Yes, she was. And Al, Joan, Linda, Donna, Pat, 370 good, patriotic, law-abiding Americans.



Stewart Nusbaumer is editor of Intervention Magazine. You can email Stewart at Stewart@interventionmag.com.


 

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