A show of unity against U.S./NATO aggression
By Ben Becker
JULY 13, 2011
Bashir, a Libyan citizen, had driven all the way from Colorado to Washington, D.C., to deliver a simple message: “NATO is killing our civilians, not saving our civilians.” Bashir was joined by hundreds of others who picketed outside the White House on July 9 with signs that read “No War for Oil,” “Money for Jobs and Education, Not War on Libya” and “Stop Bombing Africa!”
Numerous polls show that the people of the United States oppose the Libya war by a 2-1 margin despite the extreme pro-war propaganda churned out by the corporate media—which again has shown itself to be the fourth branch of government.
But this anti-war sentiment has not yet been reflected in mass anti-war activity. This was the significance of the July 9 protest initiated by the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism). Despite the 96-degree heat index, for the first time hundreds of people came together to stand up, be counted and register their dissent at the President’s doorstep against the war on Libya. History has shown that mass movements can quickly grow from such gatherings, and this could again be the case if the war were to escalate. Over the last few weeks, the resistance of the Libyan people and government has only seemed to grow, exposing the imperialists’ vision of quick regime change as an unattainable dream.
Several protesters explained that Cynthia McKinney’s “Eyewitness Libya” tour in June had moved them to take action. One was José, a 57-year-old Vietnam veteran from the Bronx, who sees in this war striking parallels to the one he experienced. “Once again innocents are being killed for the profits of a small group of rich people. Vietnam touched all of us—let’s not let war touch this generation the same way.”
Michael Ben-Elohim, 28, of New Haven, Conn., explained his presence at the march as an obligation as a descendent of Africa, which NATO was hoping to “re-colonize” through Libya. Calling out the one-sided media coverage, he asked, “Where are the pictures of the civilians being killed by NATO’s bombs?”
A significant majority of the protesters on July 9 were African American or African immigrants, and several dozen Ivorians enthusiastically participated in the march. In April, French and UN troops moved into the Ivory Coast to help remove President Laurent Gbagbo, who had steered the traditional French client state towards a more independent foreign policy. This intervention, which placed the pro-French opposition leader into power, was also justified on “humanitarian” grounds.
For Ben, 39, an Ivorian immigrant living in New York City, the interventions in Africa are all about natural resources: “In the Ivory Coast, they want our coffee and cocoa beans; in Libya, they want the oil.” Ben, an unemployed college graduate, pointed out that the U.S. government seems more interested in creating war than jobs.
Albert Josiah, 25, had seen a flyer for the July 9 protest lying on the sidewalk in Baltimore, Md., where he lives. Josiah, who is of Liberian descent, has opposed the war from the start, which he believes is “for the government’s self-interest—for oil.” The action at the White House was the first protest Josiah has ever attended, but he was eager to get back to Baltimore and “get the information out to our neighborhoods.”
Rakim Jenkins, a 21-year-old activist in the Black Student Union at the City College of New York, made the point, “When other people are being oppressed, we are too. Some people might not believe that this is their fight, but that could be your mother, father, brother or sister being bombed.” While explaining that he was supportive of Obama’s election, “Dr. King and Malcolm X would not sanction what he’s doing in Libya.”
The anti-war action was opposed by a group of about 50 pro-war Libyans who waved the flag of the Libyan rebels and chanted “Thank you, NATO!” One prominent sign, trivializing the death and destruction wrought by the war, read “NATO: You’re the bomb (literally).”
The pro-war grouping’s claim to represent the aspirations of the Libyan people is clearly a lie, according to Khalifa Mohammed, a Libyan citizen who came from Massachusetts to join the anti-war action. He told Liberation : “I will not respond to them. I will let the hundreds of thousands who demonstrated in Sabha [in southern Libya] yesterday respond to them. I will let the 1 million who came out in Tripoli last Friday respond to them. The majority of the Libyan people have spoken and they are against the war.”
After two hours of chanting and picketing, the anti-war crowd marched to an indoor rally several blocks away. There, speakers included Brian Becker, National Coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition; Akbar Muhammad, International Representative of the Nation of Islam; Khalifa Mohammed, a Libyan studying abroad in the United States; Leo Gnawa of CRI-Panafricain-USA; Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, co-founder of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund; and Salim Akhtar of the American Muslim Alliance Foundation. Masake Kane, a student at Towson University and member of the ANSWER Coalition, chaired the indoor rally.
The action drew buses of protesters from Harlem, and vans and cars from Baltimore, Md.; Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and State College, Pa.; New Haven, Conn.; and elsewhere. On the ride home, each bus had a speak-out that gave individuals a chance to reflect on their experiences and address their fellow passengers. Juanita Thomas, an activist with Afrikan Unity of Harlem, Inc., linked the war on Libya with the continuous disrespect that the United Nations shows towards the sovereignty of African countries. Jinnette Caceres, a schoolteacher and ANSWER Coalition activist, explained that future generations will want to know how the U.S. government got away with yet another war for oil: “I don’t want to look my students in the eye and say I did nothing to stop it.”
The July 9 protest was coupled with a solidarity rally that took place in San Francisco, Calif. Rather than a one-time event, the theme of the day was to use the action as a jumping-off point for a summer of anti-war activism. The next big rally scheduled is on August 13 in Harlem. A broad coalition of organizations will be working together to demand an end to the wars and sanctions on African countries, and that the government use its vast resources to meet the need for jobs and education.