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Peace Activists Launch The Occupation Project: A Campaign of Sustained Nonviolent Civil Disobedience to End the Iraq War

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Kathy Kelly joins us hours after being released from jail. She was one of 10 people arrested in Sen. McCain’s office in Washington. Eight more were arrested in the Illinois offices of Senators Obama and Durbin. Kelly just returned from two months living and working with Iraqi refugees in Amman, Jordan. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The White House won an early victory Monday in the congressional debate over the Iraq War. Republicans blocked voting on a nonbinding resolution expressing disapproval of President Bush’s deployment of at least 21,000 more troops. The measure would have marked the first congressional effort since the invasion to confront President Bush over the war. Joseph Lieberman, the independent from Connecticut, joined with the Republican filibuster. Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Norm Coleman of Minnesota switched sides and voted with the Democrats.

As the Senate debated, a coalition of peace activists launched their own effort to oppose the war. Ten people were arrested occupying the offices of the staunchly pro-war and likely presidential hopeful, Senator John McCain. The activists sang the names of 75 servicemembers from McCain’s home state of Arizona and chanted, “We remember you.”

The action is part of a new campaign called The Occupation Project: A Campaign of Sustained Nonviolent Civil Disobedience to End the Iraq War. It’s being led by the group Voices for Creative Nonviolence. Activists have promised to occupy offices of lawmakers who refuse to pledge to vote against additional war funding for the occupation of Iraq.

My next guest is executive director of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Kathy Kelly, a veteran peace activist, just returned from two months living and working with Iraqi refugees in Amman, Jordan. She was one of those who was arrested in McCain’s office and was released from jail just hours ago. Kathy Kelly joins us from Washington, D.C. Welcome, Kathy.

KATHY KELLY: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us exactly what happened yesterday and why you targeted Senator John McCain.

KATHY KELLY: Well, we came to Washington, D.C., to be with companion groups: CODEPINK and Vets for Peace and the Military Families Speak Out, the Iraq Veterans Against the War, United for Peace and Justice. There’s a long list, really, of people who are wanting to join together in the campaign called The Occupation Project. And also in Chicago, four people were arrested in Senator Barack Obama’s office, four people in Senator Durbin’s office. And we’re aware of affinity groups that are organizing all around the country for this sustained campaign to make sure that the elected representatives know that we won’t go away on this issue, that we won’t be fooled by issues that are raised that would continue the spending for three, four, five years into the future. We want this funding turned off now.

The United States waged a war of choice, and people in the United States don’t, by and large, experience the consequences of this war unless they themselves have been bereaved because their loved ones were killed over in Iraq or come back maimed or sometimes psychologically destabilized. But certainly over in Iraq and in neighboring countries, Jordan and Syria, that have been burdened by a huge influx of people who have fled from Iraq, these people are experiencing consequences, and United States military escalation has very little relevance to the security of Iraq today.

AMY GOODMAN: Kathy, you say that you also — people occupied the offices of Barack Obama in Chicago?

KATHY KELLY: Yes, that’s true. You know, there is so much to admire in Senator Obama’s vision and his desire to become a leader on behalf of solving problems with common sense in the United States. But we don’t see any sense to continuing to pour money into the pockets of war profiteers of major corporations that have been benefited from this war. You know, military analysts have said that they’re not worried about what the Democrats will do, because they feel certain that, in terms of the next elections, the Democrats aren’t going to want to offend or defy the great giant military corporations. I’m thinking about Boeing and Lockheed and General Dynamics and Raytheon.

But we are insisting that if the U.S. people, who themselves have given mandates to elected leaders that they don’t want to see this war continue, that they can see through the ruse of continuing to sustain corporate military growth at the expense of so many people’s lives, including lives in the United States. If we continue to express this directly and clearly through nonviolent civil disobedience, we believe that elected leaders with conscience will pay attention.

AMY GOODMAN: Just practically, in Washington, once you’re arrested in a senator’s office, like you were in John McCain’s office, how do you get back in and go to other people’s offices and get arrested?

KATHY KELLY: Well, you know, in some ways we might almost call this the “peaceful assembly project.” Congress shall make no law that abridges the right of people to assemble peacefully for the redress of grievance. We have a grievance. And the people who have suffered from this war have a terrible, terrible, almost unbearable grievance. So certainly, people are allowed to go into those offices to sit down — they pay for those offices to exist — and to dramatically present to the elected representatives our grievance by virtue of just listing the names. We’d have to be there for months and months to list all of the grievances that have happened because of this war. There’s no security official that can stop you of entering the office of your elected representative.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Kathy Kelly. She just got arrested in the offices of Senator John McCain of Arizona, part of The Occupation Project. She has actually just come back from Amman, Jordan. Kathy, who has been twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, has been to Iraq many times. Kathy, can you talk about your work in Jordan?

KATHY KELLY: Much of the work in Jordan is simply listening, trying to understand better what the cares and concerns are of people who have meant us no harm but who are completely trapped in Jordan and in Syria. I think the Human Rights Watch report that was issued toward the end of 2006, entitled “The Silent Treatment,” did a great deal to stir up the waters and raise concerns for people, but there hasn’t been any significant change in the situations of well over 750,000 Iraqis who have entered Amman, Jordan, and other major cities in Jordan and 850,000 in Syria. These are conservative estimates.

And these are people who simply, many of them, have no recourse, have no means to continue to sustain their families. And they’re caught in a terrible Catch-22. The United States had insisted that Iraq issue well over one million S-series passports, and then just weeks ago declared all of those passports invalid for travel into the United States. Now, the U.K. has followed suit, and Jordan is now saying that those passports aren’t valid. There’s a concern that there were forgeries and no doubt there were. Now, everyone is supposed to get a G passport. If an Iraqi leaves Jordan, they can’t get back into Jordan. They’re also told they can only stay for three months in Jordan, unless they’ve achieved permanent residency. These are people with no legal rights, no healthcare, no right to send their children to school, and many of them are running out of food, running out of ability to pay any kind of rent. And they’re living under miserable circumstances. I’ve seen it in numerous families.

And yet, rightfully, every nongovernmental organization concerned for Iraq will tell you, look, the major, major problem — and the UNHCR also says this — is that of internally displaced people within Iraq, and it’s become a humanitarian crisis to the extent that people are dying of hunger. It’s cold in that part of the world right now. And people don’t have fuel. They don’t have blankets. They’ve moved in with communities that are trying to sustain them, who didn’t have enough potable water or food in the first place.

There should be massive convoys of relief pouring into Iraq. And, you know, the amount of money that the United States has devoted to humanitarian relief not controlled by the U.S. military is 0.01 percent of what the United States spends on war in Iraq. One man, Rafiq Tschannen, the head of the International Organization for Migration, said very ironically to me, “You know, if they just moved it up to 1 percent of that sum, it could even make a difference for U.S. security,” because the people who are joining these militias are often young people who can’t find a job. Iraq now has 50 to 75 percent unemployment. The only way to even get a pittance, a meager pittance of food and relief for one’s family, is to join up with these militias. So it would have an impact on the security.

So we aren’t saying in The Occupation Project, “Leave Iraq to fend for itself,” not by any means, but take this obscene bloated military budget and direct that money toward paying just reparations and toward reconstruction not under the control of the United States military. The United States military has almost no relevance toward security in Iraq and actually jeopardizes much of the reconstruction work, as little as there is going on at all.

AMY GOODMAN: Kathy Kelly, I wanted to turn for a moment to a brief report we have from Jordan from Democracy Now! producer Jen Utz, who has been in Amman covering the plight of Iraqi refugees. She filed this report.

JEN UTZ: Ashraf Al Taie is a freelance journalist who worked as an interpreter for NBC in Iraq. He was kidnapped twice and was both mentally and physically tortured. He told me he’s certain that if he returns to Iraq he will be killed.

ASHRAF AL TAIE: I’m under threat, because I worked with Americans, because I had, in a way, connection with the Americans and the coalition forces. I used to go out on embeds. Many people saw me out with the U.S. Army, shooting them on the streets.

JEN UTZ: Ashraf has been in Amman since June, and his tourist visa is about to expire.

ASHRAF AL TAIE: Well, after my visa runs out, so I’m just going to hide in my apartment and wait something to happen, because I can’t really — I can’t go out in the streets, because if the police stop me and ask me for passport and they’re going to see that I’m not — I’m illegally in the town, they’re going to just deport me. And also, not only that, they’re going to stamp on your passport that you are not allowed to enter Jordan for five years. And they’re just going to throw me and my family on the border.

JEN UTZ: Ashraf says he also worries about his financial situation.

ASHRAF AL TAIE: I have been with no job for almost a year. And I’m married, so just spending the little money that I got from Iraq, working in Iraq — wasn’t that great money. Probably I can survive for another two or three or four months. I have to find a job. It’s very hard to get a job in here, and I don’t think my problem will be solved in the next four months.

JEN UTZ: The United Nations High Commission for Refugees is urgently appealing for $60 million to help meet the needs for the most vulnerable Iraqi refugees. Right now, Ashraf Al Taie has food. He has health. But soon, he will run out of money. Soon, food and health may become a priority for Ashraf, just as it has for so many thousands of other desperate Iraqi refugees.

ASHRAF AL TAIE: I think the United States and British government are the main reasons behind all the problems in Iraq, and they should help the Iraqi people, especially those who helped working with coalition forces or worked with Americans and helped them in Iraq.

JEN UTZ: From Amman, Jordan, this is Jen Utz for Democracy Now!

AMY GOODMAN: We thank Jen for that piece. Kathy Kelly, your final comment and your plans, as you have returned from Jordan now and are in Washington, D.C.?

KATHY KELLY: Well, I certainly look forward to rejoining my friends in Chicago for a sustained campaign at the offices of Barack Obama and Senator Richard Durbin. And I am hopeful that people all across the United States who worked so hard to prevent this war in 2003 during these very weeks of buildup toward that war in 2003. People came closer than ever before to stopping a war before it started. We’re full tilt into that war, but our accountability, our responsibility hasn’t lessened at all. And I hope that our major priority will be the poorest, the most precarious situations in Iraq. Those are people who meant us no harm and to whom we have a grave responsibility to end the war.

AMY GOODMAN: Kathy Kelly, I want to thank you for being with us, founder of Voices in the Wilderness, also one of the founders now of The Occupation Project, an eight-week long campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience to end funding for the Iraq War.

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