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Iraq Veterans Against the War Lead Thousands in Protest March to Democratic Convention

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Protests against the Democratic National Convention continued Wednesday as members of Iraq Veterans Against the War led an unpermitted march to the Pepsi Center to call on Barack Obama to back an immediate US withdrawal from Iraq. The march began at a concert by the rock band Rage Against the Machine sponsored by IVAW and the Alliance for Real Democracy. Rick Rowley of Big Noise Films files a report from the streets. [includes rush transcript]

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


Well, protests against the Democratic National Convention continued Wednesday, as members of Iraq Vets Against the War led an unpermitted march to the Pepsi Center to call on Barack Obama to back an immediate US withdrawal from Iraq. The march began at a concert by the rock band Rage Against the Machine, sponsored by Iraq Veterans Against the War and the Alliance for Real Democracy.

Rick Rowley of Big Noise Films filed this report.

    IVAW PROTESTERS: Mission top secret, destination unknown, don’t even know if we’re ever coming home.

    RICK ROWLEY: As a free concert by Rage Against the Machine came to an end Wednesday afternoon, thousands of antiwar protesters poured into the streets outside of the Denver Coliseum. The march, organized by Iraq Vets Against the War, was the largest demonstration of the convention.

    MAGGIE MARTIN: My name’s Maggie Martin. I am the chapter president of the new Savannah, Georgia chapter of IVAW. We’re marching to show the Democrats and to show America the veterans who are over there who served are against the war and that we’re not going to — we’re not going to let the Democrats get off scot-free on running on an antiwar platform and getting elected and not following through. So we’re here to hold them accountable.

    GARRETT REPPENHAGEN: You know, we voted them in in 2006 on the idea that they’d give us these false promises, these hopes that they were going to bring us out of Iraq, and they’ve only funded it time and time again, and they’ve only stalled veteran legislation that would help us get healthcare.

    So, you know, I’m not — I’m not going to —- I’m not going to vote on hope. You know, I’m going to vote on solutions. And, you know, both parties –—-it’s both parties’ fault we got into this war. It’s both parties’ fault that we’re still there. So we need to hold them both accountable. And we’re going to march there, and we’re going to demand they hear what we have to say. And if they’re really the antiwar party, as some might think, then they should have no problem endorsing what we have to say.

    We’ve been to Iraq. We’ve seen the brutality and the oppression that we’ve put upon the Iraqi people. We know that they see us as occupiers and invaders and not as peacekeepers. And we need to bring the troops home now, and that’s the only way to find a peaceful solution to this entire conflict.

    IVAW PROTESTERS: It’s all right. It’s all right.

    It’s all right. It’s all right.

    It’s all right. It’s OK.

    UNIDENTIFIED: In front of me is about sixty Iraq Veterans Against the War from different branches of military, in Dress A uniforms and combat camo uniforms, marching in tight formation.

    Behind me is the entire Rage Against the Machine show that just took place for free in Denver. And they’re marching behind us. We’re going to go as far as we can to the convention center. The vets are willing to go to jail, and a lot of the crowd is, too, so we’re going to fill the jails, fill the streets and get our message across.

    IVAW PROTESTERS: It’s all right. It’s OK.

    It’s all right. It’s OK.

    RICK ROWLEY: Protesters marched over four miles in the hot afternoon sun, past the hotels where delegates are staying and up to the gates of the Pepsi Center, where the convention is being held. The veterans carried a letter with them they planned to read to the convention.

    IVAW MEMBER: Senator Obama, in your campaign for the presidency of the United States of America, you have clearly presented yourself as the antiwar candidate, dedicated to change in trying times.

    Senator Obama, millions of Americans are looking to you to restore our country’s good name and reputation around the world, beginning with righting the wrongs of the war-driven Bush administration.

    Iraq Veterans Against the War is the only organization consisting of active-duty service members and veterans of the global war on terror committed to ending the occupation of Iraq. We believe that a responsible withdrawal of US forces from Iraq should include, number one, the immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces from Iraq; two, full and adequate healthcare and benefits to all returning service members and veterans; and three, reparations made to the Iraqi people for the destruction caused by the US war and occupation.

    REPORTER: If you don’t get in, and this all ends peacefully, will you have at least achieved part of your goal?

    IVAW MEMBER: Well, I mean, my goal right now is — I mean, I’m a Marine. I don’t — I get — you know, my mission is to stand there and tell those people that, because, yeah, you can put — you know, you can put one of us in a closet somewhere and, you know, say — whisper it in his ear. We want people to know that there are people who have served in the global war on terror who are deeply offended by what’s being done in our name.

    REPORTER: Why do you think they won’t talk to you?

    IVAW MEMBER: Well, I just — actually, I think it’s a communication thing. If we could get them to come out here, I believe they would be fine with having us read that letter. You know? They’d be just fine. If somebody can get the word in there, I’m sure there are a lot of good Americans in there that would be not OK with the idea that they’re about to arrest a bunch of Iraq vets if we don’t go home. This is my home. This is my home.

    RICK ROWLEY: Hundreds of heavily armed police officers in body armor are amassed at the gates to stop the march.

    IVAW MEMBER: The police of the City of Denver have given the dispersal order to the protesters in the rear of the formation. We’re told that if that order is given three times, they have authorization to shoot teargas into the crowd. And Iraq Veterans Against the War will be standing here in formation awaiting further response from the campaign of Senator Barack Obama.

    Shooting teargas, or a threat of it, or threatening to disperse while we exercise our First Amendment rights to peacefully gather — and I emphasize peacefully — is a disgrace.

    These veterans fought too hard to come back here and be ignored, as we have been for the last seven years by this same administration. To be ignored again by the would-be savior of America, his antiwar rhetoric — to be ignored again is a disgrace.

    RICK ROWLEY: The police brought in reinforcements, and the veterans braced themselves for an attack.

    RON KOVIC: Ron Kovic. I’m a Vietnam veteran. I was wounded in Vietnam on January 20th, 1968, with the United States Marine Corps. I was shot and paralyzed. I’ve been in a wheelchair for the last forty years this year, and I have been arrested for protesting the war twelve times. I’m not afraid to get arrested tonight.

    I support our — I support our young men and women who have served and sacrificed for their country. I support their right tonight to be heard.

    We’ve marched a long ways. They’ve been marching ever since they came home from the war. All they want to do is be listened to. That’s all they’re asking for. Have they not sacrificed enough in order to be listened to? How much more do these young men and women have to sacrifice before this country begins to listen to them? Why are they abandoning these young men and women? They have every right to be heard.

    And I don’t know — I don’t understand why the Democratic Party is turning their back on their own veterans, their own soldiers. Why is the Democratic Party not listening to these young men and women? Why? They served their country. They served their country honorably. They are peaceful. They are nonviolent. Why is the Democratic Party not listening? Where are the representatives of this party? Where are the representatives? Where are the delegates? That’s what we’re asking tonight. That’s what we’re asking tonight.

    We want an end to this war. We want to be heard. We want to be listened to. We’re tired of being told to shut up. We’re tired of being told that we’ve got to go inside of a cage. Do you know how insulting, how humiliating that is, that we have to go inside of a cage? Can you imagine? Think about this. Wake up for a second. Think about these young men and women.

    These young men and women, they are the very best. They are the finest. They’re not going to go inside of a cage. You’re not going to cage democracy. You’re not going to cage freedom of speech. You’re not going to invade our privacy. You’re not going to wiretap us. We’re getting sick and tired. We’re getting sick and tired of people telling us that we’ve got to remain silent. We’re not going to be silent anymore. We’re not going to be silent. We’re going to speak our minds and we’re going to be heard.

    RICK ROWLEY: But as the tension rose, a surprise message arrived from the Obama campaign.

    IVAW MEMBER: We got through to the campaign staff, and they’ve agreed. Their veterans’ liaison is coming out to set up a meeting to talk about when we can read our letter to the delegates. So we’ve succeeded.

    GEOFF MILLARD: As a veteran, you’re used to kind of being pushed off to the side. When you come home, most people don’t want to listen. And now that we have the ear of a presidential candidate, as Iraq veterans, I can’t tell you how good that feels. Most of the time, they want us to come home and be war heroes and take our medals and forget about the war. Well, we can’t forget about the war. We won’t forget about the war. And we certainly won’t forget about our brothers and sisters still fighting it and the Iraqi people who are stuck there.

    I would say that this is a victory. When you work in the antiwar movement, you take victories when they come to you. This is a victory. We at least have the ear of a presidential candidate. That’s, I think, the first for the antiwar movement for the Iraq war, to actually have the full ear of one of the presidential candidates.

    And we will continue to keep the pressure up. This isn’t the end for us. Until there is immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces, all veterans are taken care of, and reparations are paid to the Iraqi people, Iraq Veterans Against the War isn’t going to rest. We’re packing up in a matter of hours, and we’re headed to the Republican National Convention, and we’re going to pressure them the same way that we pressured here, especially highlighting McCain’s atrocious record on veterans’ issues. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America recently rated McCain as a D-minus, voting on veterans’ issues.

    RICK ROWLEY: Protesters were elated by the victory, but after meeting with Obama’s veterans’ liaison, Philip Carter, the initial promise of a time to address the convention was changed.

    AMY GOODMAN: Did they say they were going to present this letter to the senator, to Barack Obama?

    IVAW MEMBER: You know what? They said they’ve received it, and if the campaign staff doesn’t have enough common sense to let the senator make a decision about this, then I hope they don’t win the presidency.

    AMY GOODMAN: What did they say would be the next step?

    IVAW MEMBER: We were pushing for them to get back to us, in a deadline, and they were not — you know, they said, “Well, all I can say is that we will get back to you,” and not in a certain time frame.

    And just once again, we reiterated, you know, we have three things to tell people: that you said no, that you didn’t get back to us, or we’re reading it tomorrow in front of the delegates at the Democratic National Convention.

    AMY GOODMAN: Do you think you might possibly be doing that?

    IVAW MEMBER: Well, I never imagined to be behind that police line, so I’m not going to limit my imagination, no.

    RICK ROWLEY: The veterans remain hopeful that the Obama campaign will give them a place and a voice inside of the convention, but they are determined to keep up the pressure for an immediate withdrawal, full benefits for all veterans, and reparations for the Iraqi people, regardless of who wins in November.

    For Democracy Now!, this is Rick Rowley, with Hany Massoud and Nicole Salazar.

AMY GOODMAN: Special thanks to Jordan Hill for his assistance with Rick Rowley on this piece.

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