CHICAGO – Organized by the Peace Response and coordinated with similar mobilizations in other cities, march to protest the war in Afghanistan attracted more than 200 people here Dec. 7. Many of the participants carried blankets draped over their shoulders, to represent the suffering of refugees in Afghanistan.
Speakers at the rally not only denounced the war, but pointed out the way in which it is undermining all the other struggles for social justice in the United States.
John Donahue of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless derided the empty rhetoric about “standing together” that is coming out of Washington.
Pointing out that 80,000 people are homeless in Chicago, Donahue asked “Do we stand united for real? The world hasn’t changed for the poor and homeless in our cities since Sept. 11 … Patriotism is much more than just waving flags.” It should entail he said, making the United States a better place for all and a better neighbor to the rest of humanity.
Norman Ospina of the American Friends Service Committee pointed out the extreme problems immigrants are now facing as a result of Sept. 11 and the economic downturn. Not only the changed economic circumstances, but also the turn toward repression and scapegoating, are hitting immigrants very hard, he said, before calling for a return to the struggle for the legalization of the undocumented, which was cut short by the terrorist attacks.
Rev. Seichi Michael Yasutake, an Episcopalian priest and a second generation Japanese- American, reminded the marchers that Dec. 7 was the anniversary of Pearl Harbor.
For Japanese-Americans like him, he said, the memory is not just of an attack but also of scapegoating and repression of the 130,000 Japanese-Americans who were hustled into concentration camps at that time. He called for marchers to oppose any new efforts to treat Arab-Americans the way that Japanese-Americans were treated by the U.S. government during World War II.
Constitutional rights lawyer Michael Deutsch pointed out the similarity of the current mood in official circles with those which presaged previous bouts of severe political repression in the United States, especially denouncing the recently passed USA Patriot Act. He warned of the ultra-right background of Attorney General John Ashcroft and other Bush administration officials who want to use Sept. 11 as a pretext for crushing all dissent.
Hakim Husien of the Palestinian Aid Society spoke about the fact that the Israeli ultra-right regime of Ariel Sharon has been using the current international crisis to carry out a wave of terror against Palestinians.
Husien denounced recent acts against the Arab and Muslim communities in the United States, including the Dec. 3 firebombing of the Arab-American Community Center in Chicago and the government’s use of civil forfeiture procedures against the Holy Land Foundation.