Over 150,000 participants attended the fifth World Social Forum in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre. We hear an address by George Martin of United for Peace and Justice speaking about the war in Iraq. [includes rush transcript]
The 5th World Social Forum ended Monday at the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre. Over 150,000 participants attended six-days of conferences workshops and panel discussions tackling a vast spectrum of issues ranging from environmental conservation to global poverty to the war in Iraq.
Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez joined with thousands of activists who attended the forum. The World Social Forum was designed to counter the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland.
George Martin, from United for Peace and Justice was one of the many speakers at the forum. He spoke on a panel made up of voices from the United States, addressing the World Social Forum on the war in Iraq.
- George Martin, United for Peace and Justice.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: George Martin from the United for Peace and Justice here in the United States spoke. He was on a panel made up of voices from the United States addressing the World Social Forum on the war in Iraq.
GEORGE MARTIN: The Bush regime has transgressed international law, the United Nations, the Geneva Convention, our own U.S. Constitution, our own U.S. civil liberties, and the immigrant rights of people who have come to America. This administration has transgressed the lives of millions of people around the world and is responsible for the deaths of more than 100,000 Afghani and Iraqi people.
We say no to the Bush regime. We are United for Peace and Justice. From come from all over the United States, every state, every county, small towns, large towns. We come from national organizations, seven national coalitions. We are composed of more than 1,000 organizations across the United States. August 29, we brought more than 500,000 people to the Republican National Convention for the largest political demonstration in U.S. history.
Like many of you, we are upset and disheartened by this last election, especially with a long year of working hard on an electoral basis for many of our N.G.O.s. At the same time, during that election, we faced two candidates who were trying to out-militarize each other. And we prepared for whomever won to continue our agenda. Sad to say, Bush was illicitly selected again, and for many reasons, and that’s been debated and talked about a lot. We look forward to continuing our work. We look forward to a quick four years. On the immediate horizon, you know, we work — our tools are education, they’re lobbying, they’re public witness and demonstration.
As bad as this last election was, the election polls indicated that more than one-half of the American public was against the reasons why we went to war. But at the same time they were not ready to take the position to say, bring our troops home. That is now our mission, to educate and to move many of those exit pollers to the center far away from the right to the left, so that we can change things about war. From now until March, our organizations across the United States will be conducting town hall meetings for an open public discussion on the war of Iraq, encouraging people who are not with us, who have questions, encouraging our families, our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers to come to these meetings around the country and discuss the issue of the war on Iraq. We need to educate the American public. Our greatest barrier is the media, and there’s a whole lot going on there, but this is our approach, going right to the grassroots.
On the legislative end, Bush’s supplementary appropriations for war in Afghanistan and Iraq are coming up very shortly. It’s our job to fight to reduce those budgets, to delete some of those budgets, and that’s where we’ll be, pressuring our Congresspeople across the country, lobbying to decrease this budget, and to decrease this war. About a month ago, we had a victory, and the Congress reduced the budget for research on hand-held nuclear weapons and bunker busters. We gained ground from last year’s budget in terms of those reductions. Things can happen. It’s a bleak future, but these are the things that we have to work with, for now and for the future.
Regarding public witness demonstration, it’s been mentioned that the second anniversary of the attack in Iraq is coming up. And we’re poised with a national call to action for a major event probably in either Washington or New York. But during these last two years, in order to build the movement, we have encouraged local actions. We expect more than 350 local actions across the United States in addition to the major mobilization, and that’s the approach that we’re taking to grow this movement to do things locally and regionally and educate and bring people in the fold to train them, to create new constituencies, to lobby our Congress and to change things that happened.
You know, when our Congress took the vote for preemptive attack on Iraq, we polled their offices the day before. Every — all our congressional representatives and senators, the telephone calls, the faxes, the letters, and the emails were 10 to 1 against war. 10 to 1. And the vast majority of the Congress went along with Bush and voted for war. Who do they represent? Vested interests, multinational interests, not the American people. As they passed that vote for war, they tacked on an addendum to say that Americans, consumers, could not sue pharmaceutical companies. Our Congress doesn’t represent the people. We’re going to washing hard during these next two year as their election comes up in two years to put the pressure on them, and if they don’t vote the way we want them to vote, we are going to work doubly hard to replace them, and change the nature of the American Congress, and move it more toward the left and the progressive end so that we do not have these foreign policies that disrupt the whole world.
You know, as we talk about the anniversary of the attack on Iraq, I want to talk about my visit a bit. I went about a year ago with a delegation from United for Peace and Justice, and it was our second delegation. We had sent a delegation of military families and Veterans for Peace over in December. We decided to send a second delegation on a fact-finding mission to really see what the occupation was all about, and to hear from the Iraqi people how they felt about occupation and how they felt about their future. I’ll tell you, things were so much worse than what I expected, and they are so, so much worse right now.
I want to talk about a couple aspects that we don’t hear often. I want to talk about the children of Iraq. And I want to talk about our U.S. troops, also. You know, as we see the telephone screen, we see men fighting in violence. More than half the people in Iraq are children under 14 years of age. Children under 14 years of age. More than half the people of Iraq are women, innocent people not involved in the previous politics and what’s going on today, and suffering so much, suffering through ten years of the Iraq sanctions, and continued suffering. When I visited way less than half the children were going to school. And from our friends who are returning, and our friends are returning because they jeopardize our other friends in Iraq, and Iraqi people by just being there, and most recently, we had friends return from A.F.S.C., and things have not gotten any better. I see time is running short here and I get to go and I could go a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot. But women and children suffer on a daily, daily basis. I visited the performing arts center, a cultural building that was not supposed to have been bombed. Remember our smart bombs? They blew the roof off the building. There were 500 homeless women and kids squatting in that building. There are more than half a million homeless women and kids living in Baghdad and suffering every day. We need to end this war.
For the sake of time, I’m going to pass on our troops and I want to share a very important story with you. I met a woman named Vivian Salim. She had four kids. And as we remember the attack on Baghdad, shock and awe, to us on television, it looked like the Fourth of July. We had that old literal feeling about the cleansing night. We don’t see the destruction, we don’t see the violence. We understand the death and injury. But we don’t talk about the psychological violence. There are hundreds of thousands of kids in Iraq who cannot sleep alone at night based upon being exposed to that massive noise and destruction. They hear a glass break or a bullet, they piss on themselves, and only 70 psychologists in the whole country and they’re getting 10% of what they asked for under reconstruction to work with the youngest kids.
I met this woman named Vivian during shock and awe. The thunder, the noise rained down so hard, her kids were going out of their minds. Her and her husband packed up their four kids in the car, and a couple things, and were trying to get out of town. They ran across one of our U.S. tanks coming forward toward them. Her husband stood up in the doorway and was talking to the tank driver. Her husband, an Iraqi, was an engineer, trained at the University of Virginia in the United States. Truly, we have a global society. And as he was talking to the driver, he tried to explain to him that his kids were freaking out. They were just trying to get out of town. Another tank came from the right, and blew up the car. Vivian lost her husband and her four kids that day. And all she could say was, "Why?"
I want somebody responsible to tell me why this should happen. No parent should have to go through this. I heard the same thing from my friend Lila Lipscomb of Fahrenheit 9/11, whose son was in the army, and he died in Iraq. The same thing in terms of no parent should go through this. I heard that from my friend Ari Lazar of 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, who lost loved ones in the towers and at the Pentagon, that no family should have to go through this. United for Peace and Justice, we are — we say no to the Bush regime. We say no to war, to hate, to lies, and to greed. We say end this occupation, bring our troops home now!
AMY GOODMAN: George Martin of United for Peace and Justice, speaking at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. It wrapped up yesterday.