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Arrest of 61 Peace Activists Outside White House Kicks Off Week of Protest Against Afghan War

StoryOctober 07, 2009
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As the occupation of Afghanistan enters its ninth year, the antiwar movement here in the United States has organized several actions this week calling for an end to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Dozens of rallies and protests are being held across the country today. We speak to David Swanson, who was among sixty-one people arrested Monday at a protest outside the White House. [includes rush transcript]

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


As the occupation of Afghanistan enters its ninth year, the antiwar movement here in the United States has organized several actions this week calling for an end to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Dozens of rallies and protests are being held across the country today.

On Monday, sixty-one people were arrested at a protest outside the White House. David Swanson from AfterDowningStreet.org was one of those arrested Monday. He’s the author of the new book Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union. He joins us from Charlottesville, Virginia.

Welcome to Democracy Now!


Great to be here.


Talk to us about the protest that you participated in.


Well, it was an interesting convergence of issues, in that there was a press conference inside the White House lawn about healthcare, and there were doctors with us saying, “Let’s end these wars. Let’s use all of that money to do single-payer healthcare and have lots of money left over. These are all majority positions. What’s the holdup?” And the White House is behaving as if it’s unaware that a majority of Americans are against this war, as well as the war in Iraq, and that there’s any sort of peace movement out there protesting.

But we are going to our Congress members, and there are events all over the country this week. And we are saying to our Congress members, “You need to sign onto Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s bill to cut off the money for any escalation.” And, in fact, we need fundamentally to build a list of committed Congress members who will vote “no” on any funding resolution, because, of course, with a bill, we have to then go through the Senate and the President. With “no” votes, we have a chance. And we put up that fight in June. We’re building that movement.

We do also have a bill from Congressman McGovern for a hundred — that has a hundred co-sponsors, that would demand an exit plan of the Secretary of Defense, any sort of exit plan.

It’s absolutely disgraceful that the leaders of the two parties, the day after our protest, went to the White House and said, “The war powers are yours, Mr. President.” This is unconstitutional. We’re not supposed to have two parties. We’re supposed to have three branches of government, and Congress is supposed to decide, representing us, when and where there will be a war.


But David Swanson, are you disheartened by the fact that so far only twenty-one co-sponsors have signed onto Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s bill?


Well, those are original co-sponsors on day one; this is something that’s just begun. I am encouraged that they’ve put that in and are beginning to whip around it. I’m encouraged that there are a hundred co-sponsors of the bill demanding an exit plan. I’m somewhat encouraged that, when it came down to it, we had thirty members of Congress vote “no” on the money back in June and that the public and the stories in the news have moved the debate much further against this war since June, so that if we had a similar situation, where the Republicans were all voting “no” for some cockamamy reason, we could get the thirty-nine we needed , not the thirty that we held in June. And that’s the threat to the President’s agenda and to this scheme where the Congress is trying to shift all responsibility for wars to the President, where it does not belong.


Are you finding reluctance by some antiwar activists to take to the streets or become more vocal around this issue, given the fact, obviously, that there’s an — they elected an antiwar president, who has bifurcated the issue by saying, “Well, Iraq was the bad war of choice, Afghanistan is the necessary war”?


Well, he did that before the election, and the public was there before the election. Now we have a majority of the public against both wars, and we have broken promises on Iraq. We were going to have two brigades out a month for the first sixteen months. We are not seeing that. We are still in Iraq. We have a treaty, unconstitutionally made between Bush and Maliki, that required that the Iraqi people get to vote it up or down by this past July. I’m not hearing word one from the White House on that. They may get their vote in January. If they do not, there will be huge anger in Iraq and in this country.

We have a situation where the wars are ongoing. Some of the escalation is indeed what this president promised, but the public has moved against it. And, you know our elected representatives have to represent who we are right now, not just who we were before the most recent election. And our representatives in Congress have to cut off that money.

This is not making us safer. The American public has come to this realization, that the 9/11 planning was done in hotels in Germany and Spain and our own flight training schools. This is not about making us safer. In fact, it’s making us less safe. It’s enraging people against us, and it’ s damaging the rule of law, which is a fact that gets left out of much of this, that this is illegal.

So we are going to our Congress members this week, in Washington and locally, all over the country. And people who look at what we did this week in Washington and want to do something, but can’t make it to Washington, can go to the district office of their Congress member and sit there and not leave.


And David Swanson, in the little time we have left, what about the issue of whether the organizational capacity of the antiwar movement — has it been demobilized and de-funded?


Oh, it was radically so at the moment the election happened. The exact reverse of what you ought to do. We’ve behaved as if we had a coup, rather than an election. Following an election, of better people, potentially, that’s when you fund and invest and work to push them for the changes that are needed. And that realization, predictably, sadly, is just coming about now. But if we can that realization now to put issue and peace and justice ahead of party and to get in the streets and to think of the little that we can do, in comparison to the suffering of the people in Afghanistan, we may see a change.


And what can you urge listeners and viewers to Democracy Now! to do at this stage to, in one way or another, join in your efforts to end the war in Afghanistan?


Drop your hopes that the President will solve things for you, drop your fantasies about influencing the President or most senators, and focus on your House member, who has an office near you. Go there, politely and less so, and be willing to sit there and not leave until they commit to not voting another dollar for wars we oppose.


Well, Dave Swanson, I think we’re going to have to leave it there, co-founder of AfterDowningStreet.org and author of the new book Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union.

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