Protests are erupting all over Iraq, from north to south. Thousands have crowded around government buildings, setting some on fire and demanding political reforms, jobs and access to electricity, which is extremely scarce. Some protesters have been shot and killed by the same private mercenaries they have been trying to expel from their country for eight years.
Iraq’s “New Dawn” is a nightmare for the Iraqi people. They overwhelmingly cite the U.S. occupation as the main cause of the violence, political corruption, lack of basic services and economic hardship that they suffer.
The widespread support for Pres. Obama during the 2008 U.S. elections rested in part on his pledge to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq. But this withdrawal plan was simply a change in strategy, contingent on upholding the primary mission there: to ensure access to Iraq’s vast oil reserves, their markets and financial sector, and a base of operations from which to dominate the entire region.
But the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have inspired a wave of uprisings throughout the Arab world. The U.S. government fears the Iraqi people rising up to determine their own destiny. So Defense Secretary Robert Gates has given the first indications that U.S. troops will stay, “[if] the Iraqis ask us to have additional people there.”
By “Iraqis,” Gates of course means the sham Iraqi government, which is completely dependent on the backing of Washington to exist. The Iraqi people have already voted to expel all U.S. forces with their blood and their tears for eight long years.
The U.S. government is willing to continue squandering hundreds of millions of dollars a day, and is prepared to sacrifice more lives and limbs of our family members and friends, to hold on to their treasure in Iraq.
We are seeing the same story unfold in Afghanistan. The U.S. military machine is being defeated by a popular rebellion of over 1,000 different armed resistance groups—poor farmers and families who have seen their children killed and homes destroyed.
Among U.S. soldiers, horrible wounds are so common that troops on the ground have new slang to describe their friends: “double amps” or “trip amps,” referring to the number of limbs lost. The top Pentagon brass admit that this is an endless war. But this government will not bring us home. It will sacrifice as many lives and resources as it can to hold on to the bounty they hope to win there.
The occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan cost taxpayers over $700 million every day. This is a truly staggering amount. And while the military budget is bursting at the seams, we are told every day that there is not enough money. We are told that there is not enough funding to adequately treat veterans with PTSD, who die from suicide at a higher rate than soldiers are killed in combat.
We are told that we must hate public sector unions, because they “make too much money” and their “benefits are too good.” We are told that we must support thousands of school teachers being laid off, because raising taxes on the wealthiest 1 percent would be simply unthinkable.
We are told that we must accept skyrocketing college tuition, regardless of how many young people are robbed of an education, because there simply is no other choice. We are told that thousands cut off from HIV/AIDS treatment must die, and that families cut off from welfare and social services must sleep on the streets.
We have been told ad nauseam that the power is in the ballot box. Even large swaths of the anti-war movement focused on campaigning for Obama and the Democrats, in hopes that more “progressive” politicians would mean some sort of change.
Obama and the Democrats taught millions an important lesson. Despite a filibuster-proof majority in the House and Senate and control over the White House, after the Democrats gave lip service to popular demands for ending the rule of the super-rich, we just got more of the same.
Corporate fat cats still walk off with record profits and million-dollar bonus checks, paid for with our tax dollars in “stimulus money,” while they lay off thousands of workers. Defense contractors are handed multi-billion-dollar contracts to concoct new bombs to be dropped on poor people all over the world. The most vulnerable sectors of society are driven deeper into poverty in order to avoid imposing even the slightest hike in taxes for the richest people on the planet. Wars and militarism are only expanding, not ending, as the majority of people want.
But we were all taught another important lesson recently—not by corporate lackeys in Washington, but by the heroic students, workers and struggling families in Egypt.
They taught us that power does not reside within the government. They taught us that even the most entrenched, protected system benefiting the super-rich is far from invincible. They taught us where the real power lies: with the people in the streets.
The Egyptian people did not ask for change. They did not hope for change or vote for change. They demanded and fought for change—they ignored the minor token concessions, they refused to be fooled by promises of reforms, they felt the power of a united people’s movement, they shut down business as usual—and they won.
We can win too. And we will win—but like the Egyptian people, we have to fight, we have to shut down business as usual. We have no more in common with those millionaires sitting in Washington than the Egyptian people had with those lounging in the Presidential Palace. From Cairo to Washington, the only language that a government of the rich understands is the thunderous voice of a people united in the streets.
Attacks on working families are intensifying. U.S. wars abroad are intensifying. We must intensify the struggle, too. That is why the most important place to be on March 19, the eighth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, is in the streets, making our voices heard and building the people’s movement that will ultimately be victorious. All across the country, thousands will be marching.
Draw your anger from the deteriorating conditions for our friends and families, from innocent people being bombed overseas, from the constant attacks on our jobs, our education, our access to housing and health care. Draw your inspiration from those in Egypt who felt angry about those same exact things, who stood up and won themselves a new life and a new path. Take those feelings to the streets, where they can be more than just feelings, but can become an unbeatable political force.
Veterans and active duty troops will be marching all over the country, including a mass veteran-led civil disobedience in Washington, D.C. Click here to find an action near you.
To join a March Forward! contingent, email [email protected] to find out how to get involved.