peace – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop Chicago Community Stories Sun, 18 Feb 2018 19:24:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Peace groups react to Syria crisis Wed, 04 Sep 2013 01:11:28 +0000 Peace groups are launching a petition drive — calling on members of Congress to vote against authorizing military action against Syria — with a rally at Representative Jan Schakowsky’s office, 5533 N. Broadway, on Wednesday, September 4, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“U.S. military intervention is far more likely to make matters worse, not better,” argues an online petition from the Illinois Coalition for Justice, Peace and the Environment.

Schakowsky joined local representatives Danny Davis and Bobby Rush last week in signing a letter initiated by Rep. Barbara Lee of California calling on President Obama to seek congressional approval for any action, which he has since decided to do.  But yesterday Schakowsky’s husband, political consultant Robert Creamer, posted a “progressive case” for authorizing military action on Huffington Post.

Those responsible for chemical attacks should be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court, and the U.S. should maintain humanitarian aid for refugees and step up diplomatic pressure for a negotiated settlement to the two-year conflict in Syria, said Marcia Bernsten of Chicago Area Peace Action, one of the groups organizing the Wednesday rally.

“Using chemical weapons is completely atrocious, but we don’t have the facts, and even when we do, it’s not the job of the U.S. to punish the perpetrators, it’s the international courts,” she said.  Not only has there been no attack on the U.S., she argued, but the risk of attacks on the U.S. increases “if we go around bombing people.”

She cited a statement from former president Jimmy Carter pointing out that “a punitive military response without a U.N. Security Council mandate…would be illegal under international law” and “will only harden existing positions and postpone a sorely-needed political process to put an end to the catastrophic violence.”

An attack would also risk extensive civilian casualities, would further destablize the region and potentially provoke retaliation by Syria or its allies, Bernsten said.

The American Friends Service Committee is also urging people to contact Congress and ask for a “no” vote on military authorization, said Mary Zerkel.

“While we unequivocally condemn any use of chemical weapons along with continued indiscriminate killing of civilians and other violations of international humanitarian law, military strikes are not the answer,” the group said in a letter to President Obama signed by 26 national organizations.

“Rather than bringing an end to the violence that has already cost more than 100,000 lives, they threaten to widen the vicious civil war in Syria and undermine prospects to de-escalate the conflict and eventually reach a negotiated settlement.”


A citywide coalition has called for a march and rally at noon on Saturday, September 7, at the Federal Plaza.  The Syrian American Forum is supporting the action, in part because a military attack on Syria is simply “not in America’s interest,” said Dr. Matar Matar.

“As an American citizen I don’t see how it helps American national security in any way,” he said, stressing the danger of being drawn into a wider war — and of giving a military boost to groups allied with Al Qaeda now fighting the Syrian government.

“They are the most powerful component of the military opposition,” and include groups and individuals identified as terrorist by the State Department, Matar said.  “They are not there to bring democracy and freedom to Syria.”

A military attack will increase the refugee problem and further damage the nation’s barely-functoning economy, Matar said.  “People in conflict areas are vulnerable to radicalization when they see no jobs, no education,” he said.

The U.S. should pressure the Gulf States to stop arming and financing the Islamist militias and convince the political opposition to join negotiations that were discussed last month but dropped, he said.  He believes negotiations could result in new national elections, supervised by the U.N.

Not enough is known about the chemical weapons attack last month, Matar said.  But once documented, “it doesn’t justify a war on Syria,” he said. “It’s not the whole country that is responsible.  They should bring the people responsible for those attacks to the International Criminal Court for war crimes.”


In the wake of reports of a chemical weapons attack, analysts warn against the “false binary” choice between two options only: military action or (as Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies put it in an internet forum sponsored by “they get away with it.”  (This, by the way, is Creamer’s approach.) There are other options.

Diplomacy in this situation is not going to be easy, they say — not with a fractured opposition fighting among itself, and a range of agendas at play in Syria, from the “new cold war” between the U.S. and Russia to the rivalry of Iran and the Saudis — but it’s the only approach with the potential to actually bring an end to the killing.

The Obama administration initially gave diplomacy short shrift because Syrian President Bashar al-Assad looked weak, writes Trira Parsi for Reuters.  It’s clear now “that Assad is neither so weak that he will lose, nor so strong that he can easily win. In short there is a stalemate, which provides fertile ground for negotiations to achieve a durable cease-fire.”

“What we’re going to have to have — and it’s going to be now or it’s going to be later — is more diplomacy, tougher diplomacy, harder diplomacy,” Bennis tells Real News. “It’s going to take diplomacy and negotiations to end this war, to stop any possible use in the future of any weapons, certainly including chemical weapons….

“That means engaging directly with the regime in Syria, as well as with the opposition. It means engaging with those who support both sides. So the U.S. needs to be engaging directly with Russia, as well as with Iran.”   The Obama administration previously opposition Iranian participation in talks, a position Bennis calls “crazy.”

The U.S. needs to pressure Russia and Iran to stop resupplying the regime with arms, and in turn ensure that U.S. allies including Saudi Arabia stop funding and arming opposition groups, Bennis said.  “Until we have a halt to the new weapons coming in, there’s no way that talks toward a ceasefire are going to work.”

Comments Glenn Greenwald: “There are few things more bizarre than watching people advocate that another country be bombed even while acknowledging that it will achieve no good outcomes other than safeguarding the ‘credibility’ of those doing the bombing.” He adds, “it’s hard to imagine a more potent sign of a weak, declining empire than having one’s national ‘credibility’ depend upon periodically bombing other countries.”

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NATO round-up Thu, 24 May 2012 21:11:36 +0000 Stop NATO has a roundup of national and international coverage of the Chicago summit.

Favorite trivia:  Georgia President Shaakashvili calls NATO “more relevant now than ever” and Occupy protestors “relics of the past.”  Is it possible he could have that backwards?

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Not NATO’s kind of town Wed, 23 May 2012 00:17:25 +0000 Mayor Emanuel is congratulating himself for a successful NATO summit – successful mainly because no disasters occurred, though the only real threats seem to have been those manufactured by police.

No doubt the black bloc is also congratulating itself that day-after front pages carried pictures of scuffles with police, rather than veterans returning their medals with members of Afghans For Peace looking on, certainly the most moving and meaningful drama of the weekend.

What would a real accounting of the summit’s costs and benefits look like?

“Obama projects desired image,” the Sun-Times titles one story, but the summit itself had some signal failures.  Two major goals – getting commitments from member states to fund the next phase of the war in Afghanistan, and reopening supply routes through Pakistan – did not pan out.

The protests cast a long shadow over Obama’s attempt to play the summit as a withdrawal from Afghanistan for the domestic audience (while lining up support from other countries for continuing operations).

Unfortunately for Emanuel’s legacy, the “Chicago Accord” that he was boasting last week would be signed at the summit – an agreement on how to proceed on Afghanistan – wasn’t to be, Rick Rozoff of Stop NATO points out.

Even the summit’s biggest actual accomplishment – the announcement that NATO’s missile defense system is going online – comes with no noticeable benefit and at great cost: major tensions with Russia, whose cooperation is needed for the alternative supply route to Afghanistan, Rozoff says.

He points out that the announcement included new plans for satellite technology, which he calls a fulfillment of Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars dreams, and a dangerous and costly step toward the militarization of space.

Largest anti-NATO protest ever

Meanwhile, NATO was subject to a great deal of negative attention – and Chicago hosted the largest anti-NATO demonstration in the entire history of the alliance, Rozoff said.

(Four city blocks – a half mile – of marchers filling four lanes of State Street probably amounts to two or three times the police/media estimate of 3,000 protestors.)

And there’s renewed attention to the obscene amounts the U.S. and NATO nations spend on armaments.  This at a time when suffering from a lingering economic crisis continues to grow, when cities and states are mired in crisis and slashing public services – and while Obama’s defense secretary is opposing relatively minor spending cuts agreed to in last year’s budget deal.

The media tends to see the protestors as bearing a confusing mish-mash of causes.  But listen to them and you see that they are all connected on a fundamental level. At the Grant Park rally on Sunday, speaker after speaker tied issue after issue to the question of war and militarization.

N’Dana Carter of the Mental Health Movement pointed out that there are 30,000 Illinois National Guard members returning from war who have no access to VA care – and if Emanuel succeeds in closing mental health centers, “there will be no one to take care of them.”

“As long as there is war and poverty, there will be immigrants,” said Tania Unzueta of the Immigrant Youth Justice League.  “And long as there are deportations, there will be resistance,” she said, excoriating Obama for stepping up deportations to unprecedented levels.

“I’m angry because the people in power haven’t been listening to us,” said Angela Walker with ATU Local 998, representing Milwaukee bus drivers.  “We have been demanding an end to these wars for a decade and we’re still there.

“I stand in solidarity with the rights of Afghan women – their rights are not debatable,” she said.  “I am a union worker in Wisconsin – our rights are not debatable.”

Declared Walker: “I’m here because there should not be a single homeless veteran in this country.”

Protests target Emanuel too

Mayor Emanuel also came in for a lot of negative attention.  Many protestors’ signs targeted the mayor; one said “Donate Rahm to Afghanistan.”  Rocker Tom Morello taunted the mayor at the nurses’ rally Friday.  A huge, colorful, spirited crowd marched on his home Saturday, bringing more notice to his draconian mental health cuts, under the banner of “Health Care Not Warfare.”

The larger disparities and inequities in the city did not entirely escape attention, either.  Reporting on Grassroots Collaborative’s “Real Chicago” bus tour, the Guardian noted the irony of NATO promising “peace through security” in a city where, in minority neighborhoods, “neither exists.”  Murders are up in Chicago by 50 percent over last year (the city’s rate is nearly twice as high as New York’s), and insecurity correlates closely with race and poverty.  One third of African American residents live in poverty; black infant mortality is “on a par with the West Bank,” and black life expectancy in Chicago is lower than Egypt’s.

One wonders how Emanuel’s backers – the CEOs who donated millions from their corporate coffers to finance this extravanza – feel about the idea now.  Monday morning’s headlines did nothing to burnish the city’s reputation.  The $128 million that summit boosters said would be injected into the city’s economy turned out to be a figment of their imagination.  Downtown restaurants actually reported a “slump.”

And Monday, host committee donor Boeing was shut down by protestors highlighting its arms production and its tax evasion – a level of attention the corporation has avoided during its years in Chicago.  Might Boeing and others like it have been just as happy to have the summit somewhere else?

Expect the next NATO summit to be far, far away.  Perhaps, next time, at an undisclosed location.

Rick Rozoff chronicles NATO’s ‘endless wars’ Tue, 15 May 2012 00:44:26 +0000 By hosting a self-proclaimed “nuclear alliance” like NATO, Chicago is violating the spirit if not the letter of the city’s status as a nuclear free zone, passed unanimously by the City Council in 1986 and signed by Mayor Harold Washington, says Rick Rozoff.

It’s one of dozens of points that came up in several wide-ranging talks with Rozoff, a Chicagoan who for 13 years has edited the Stop NATO blog, almost certainly the most comprehensive source for news and critical analysis of the alliance in the world.

On Thursday, Rozoff and a representative of Iraq Veterans Against the War will take the anti-NATO position in a debate with former Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns and NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary James Appathurai at the Pritzker Military Library.

Making war around the world

Stop NATO started in 1999, a watershed year according to Rozoff, when NATO launched its first war, a 78-day bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.  That’s the point at which NATO moved beyond its posture as a strictly defensive organization protecting its members’ territories to become “an active war-making organization” – and when promises of post-Cold War demilitarization and a “peace dividend” were betrayed, he says.

Since then NATO has conducted wars in Asia and Africa – a brutal ten-year slog with heavy civilian casulaties in Afghanistan, NATO’s first ground war, and a six-month bombing campaign in Libya.

Despite the unprecedented presence of 150,000 troops from 50 nations (including NATO members and partners) waging war in a single, relatively small country, Afghanistan is widely viewed as a defeat for the alliance. NATO claims Libya as a victory, though the nation is now dominated by fundamentalists and riven by clan wars, with instability spreading to other African nations, Rozoff points out.

Global expeditionary force

A major function of these wars, he argues, is to integrate the  militaries of NATO members and scores of partner nations into a “global expeditionary force,” with small countries enlisted in efforts to ensure Western access to resources and hem in nations with independent foreign policies –notably Russia, China, and Iran.

NATO’s expanded military alliance “puts smaller countries in the position of having to respond when the major powers call for assistance,” obliges them to accept U.S. and NATO bases on their territory, and requires them to purchase advanced weaponry – which they don’t need and can’t afford – from Western nations, Rozoff says.

The Chicago summit will deal with transitioning to a new phase of involvement in Afghanistan, further integrating the forty NATO partner states that participate in the alliance’s wars, and upgrading the alliance’s military capabilities.  NATO is expected to announce that its European interceptor missile system has achieved initial operational capability.

Nuclear tensions

While touted as a defense against attacks from North Korea or Iran, the missile system seems to be aimed at Russia, destabilizing the continent’s nuclear balance and ratcheting up tensions.  Indeed, Rozoff says the system “is not to be construed as a defensive project whatsoever,” and ultimately could be part of a first-strike nuclear system.

Rozoff notes other developments to watch, including U.S. plans to spend $4 billion to modernize its European-based nuclear weapons, NATO’s first move to acquire drone technology, and calls for NATO to intervene in Syria and Mali.  It’s all covered in detail at Stop NATO, a compilation of international news reports along with Rozoff’s trenchant commentary.

The Chicago summit “leaves us face to face with the most burning question of our era,” Rozoff told interviewer Allen Ruff on WORT-FM in Madison earlier this month. “Which is that 21 years after the end of the Cold War, we have lived through incessant warfare, there have been wars after wars after wars, in Iraq and Somalia and Bosnia and Kosovo and Afghanistan, in Iraq again, in Libya, we’re seeing bombing and missile attacks into Pakistan and Somalia and Yemen, and on and on and on.

“And it is about time that the people of Chicago, of the United States and the world, say look: there was a promise 21 years ago when the Cold War ended, that we would have peace, that we would have disarmament, we would have a peace dividend that directed funds from killing to fund human needs and human development.”

He points out that the United States spent $729 billion last year for the Defense Department — $2,400 for every person living in the country.  “There are better things to do with that money than to kill people.”

NATO summit: drone warfare challenged Sun, 13 May 2012 20:18:37 +0000 Drone warfare will be an issue at the NATO summit, though it’s a far more urgent one for many of NATO’s critics.

NATO will review the strategic agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan, which will allow drone attacks to continue, despite Afghanistan’s attempt to negotiate an end to them. NATO will also review a deal reached earlier this year for members to kick in $1.4 billion to start building its own drone force.

Drone war is also behind the decision not to invite Pakistan to the Chicago summit, although the nation is one of dozens of NATO “partners,” and an important one. The U.S. reportedly pressed for its exclusion because Pakistan refused to reopen NATO supply routes closed after a U.S. drone attack killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November.

Pakistan, previously in tacit support of the drone war, has now demanded it be ended, to no avail.


Pakistan’s exclusion from the summit “makes the whole thing a farce,” said Pakistani-American human rights activist Rafia Zakaria. “You’re supposed to be figuring out the future of the Afghanistan mission and the negotiations with the Taliban, and you don’t have the country that’s integral to all of that.”

Zakaria will be speaking along with Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, author of the new book, “Drone Wars,” at the Heartland Cafe, 7000 N. Glenwood, on Monday, May 14 at 7 p.m.

The book is an attempt “to make the American people aware of how counterproductive drone warfare is, how many innocent civilians it kills, how it creates blowback and anti-U.S. sentiment – and to get more people involved in calling for an end to it,” Benjamin said.

Code Pink has protested at drone bases, as has the locally-based group Voices for Creative Nonviolence. Last month VCNV and grassroots peace groups in Missouri, upstate New York, and Wisconsin held protests and committed civil disobedience at air bases where drones are maintained and deployed.

Killing civilians

They delivered a war crimes indictment charging the U.S. chain of command, from the president on down, with violations of U.S. and international law including “extrajudicial killings, violation of due process, wars of aggression, violation of national sovereignty, and the killing of innocent civilians.”

Kathy Kelly of VCNV said she and colleagues “have been in Pakistan and Afghanistan and become aware of how much fear and mistrust the drone attacks have caused. We’ve talked to people who’ve lost loved ones” in drone attacks. One young girl she met in an Afghan refugee camp lost an arm in a drone attack; her brother was seriously injured; her uncle lost his wife and five daughters.

Given the secrecy in which the program is cloaked, it’s hard to know how many civilians have been killed, Kelly said. According to a VCNV pamphlet, “The vast majority of victims of drone strikes through the history of drone warfare have been innocent civilians.”

An extensive effort by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, based at City University in London, has identified the names of 317 civilians killed in U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan, including 174 children. Out of up to 3,000 or more people killed in about 300 attacks, BIJ was able to identify 171 named militants.

The actual numbers are almost certainly higher. One “precision” targeted assassination in 2009 killed the leader of the Pakistan Taliban, along with his wife and her father. But according to Rolling Stone, it was the fourth attempt on the man’s life; 45 civilians were killed in one earlier attempt, and 35 more, including an 8-year-old boy, in another.

A game of odds

The Obama administration has dramatically stepped up drone attacks (they’re carried out by the U.S. military in Afghanistan and by the CIA in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen). After being coy about it for a couple of years, in January the president defended the program as “very precise,” saying drone strikes “have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties.”

The program appeals to the administration as “a more targeted way of waging war,” one without the political costs associated with troop casualties, according to RS. “From the moment Obama took office, according to Washington insiders, the new commander in chief evinced a ‘love’ of drones” – an enthusiasm shared by top aides including then-chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who “would routinely arrive at the White House and demand, ‘Who did we get today?'”

The expansion involved moving beyond targeted assassinations of top Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders to selecting targets based on suspicious activity observed by drone surveillance. When it comes to these kinds of attacks, “the decision to launch a drone assault is essentially an odds game,” according to RS. “If the agency think’s it’s likely that the group of individuals are insurgents, it will take a shot.”

A former official tells Rolling Stone: “The CIA is doing a lot more targeting on a percentage basis.”

In one case RS reports, a well-known, pro-U.S. human rights advocate was killed because the CIA confused his cell-phone number with that of a Taliban leader.

Fighting terrorism

Zakaria uses words like “absurd” and “ludicrous” to describe the program. Based in Indiana, she’s a board member of Amnesty International, a columnist at Dawn, Pakistan’s major English-language newspaper, and author of the forthcoming book, “Silence in Karachi: An Intimate History of Pakistan” (Beacon).

“You would never put people on a remotely-piloted aircraft, but we’re willing to use the same thing to kill people,” she says. (Clearly, it’s only feasible in areas where we have little concern for the welfare of the general population.)

One problem is that drone warfare is presented as a tactic against terrorism. “If you put terrorism on one side of a scale and anything on the other side, you can make anything seem defensible – torture, indefinite detention, drones,” says Zakaria.

“Drones are not a solution to terrorism,” she says. Refugees consistently say that after every drone attack, “the first people on the scene are Taliban who recruit family members of the victims,” she says. “What [drones are] doing is really providing a replacement supply of recruits for whomever is killed in a strike.”

She points out that 5,000 Pakistanis were killed in nearly 500 terrorist attacks last year. “If drones are working so well – if they’re really crippling the capacity of Al Qaeda and the Taliban – how in the world are they possibly doing 500 attacks in one year?”

Reuters’ David Rohde, arguing that Obama’s drone strategy is “backfiring,” points to Yemen as another case. Twenty drone strikes were carried out there in the months after a Yemeni-trained militant tried to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner in December 2009.

“In addition to killing Al Qaeda-linked militants, the strikes killed dozens of civilians, according to Yemenis. Instead of decimating the organization, the Obama strikes have increased the ranks of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula from 300 fighters in 2009 to more than 1,000 today, according to Gregory Johnsen, a leading Yemen expert at Princeton University. In January, the group briefly seized control of Radda, a town only 100 miles from the capital, Sanaa.”

Destroying Pakistan

Zakaria also raises the “secondary effects” of the drone war, with camps and cities – already lacking infrastructure and jobs — swollen by hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing areas where drone strikes are common and the hovering presence of the weapons is constant.

“Pakistan is being destroyed by the effects of the drones,” she said. “They’re supposed to be ‘surgical strikes’ excising a cancer, but the whole body is dying.”

Kelly has similar stories about swollen refugee camps in Afghanistan, where 40 people froze to death last winter, and of Kabul, where 5 million now live in a city built for 500,000.

Why do people flee areas where drones are in use? What’s it like to live under the protection of these things?

“From the ground, drones are terrifying weapons that can be heard circling overhead for hours at a time,” writes Rohde, who was held captive by the Taliban from November 2008 until he escaped in June 2009. “They are a potent, unnerving symbol of unchecked American power.”

A Pakistani attorney for 80 families of drone victims says that in the province of Waziristan, there are four or five drones in the air at any given time.

Kelly and VCNV are currently on a 170-mile peace walk from Madison to Chicago to protest the NATO summit. They bring with them an alternative agenda for the summit: immediately end drone strikes, dismantle the NATO mission in Afghanistan, end diplomatic and financial support for Hamid Karzai “and the warlords in the National Assembly,” and provide reparations commensurate to the destruction caused by the U.S./NATO war.

Women against NATO Fri, 11 May 2012 03:05:18 +0000 One feature of anti-NATO activities planned here is the presence of several women leaders who have notable records of directly confronting war-makers, of “speaking truth to power,” sometimes at significant personal risk.

In addition to their own stories, they offer valuable perspectives on the crucial issue of women’s rights in Afghanistan.  That’s also the subject of a Shadow Summit for Afghan Women’s Rights being held by Amnesty International at the Swissotel, 325 E. Wacker, on Sunday, May 20, the opening day of the NATO summit – where, Amnesty notes, Afghan women won’t be represented, though their interests will be seriously impacted.

Kathy Kelly, Malalai Joya, and Medea Benjamin are each speaking at the People’s Summit, Saturday and Sunday, May 12 and 13, at 500 W. Cermak (schedule here) and at the No to NATO rally Sunday, May 20 at noon in Grant Park.

Kathy Kelly

Born and raised on Chicago’s Southwest Side, Kathy Kelly became an anti-war activist through the Uptown Catholic Worker House in the late 1970s.  She’s been arrested in peace actions over 60 times and been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times, once by Nobel laureate Mairead Maguire.  She co-founded Voices in the Wilderness in 1995, which sent medical supplies to Iraq in defiance of the U.S. embargo.

With VITW and its successor, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, founded in 2005, Kelly has travelled countless times to war zones; she was in Baghdad for the U.S. invasion in 2003, Lebanon during the 2006 invasion, and Gaza during the Israeli attack in 2008; she and her colleagues have visited Iraq and Afghanistan extensively.

“We try to live in poor neighborhoods, alongside people who can’t escape the war zones, and listen to ordinary people whose voices are never heard,” she said.  She frequently reports on the experiences and views of the people she lives among.  She talks about the 250 Afghan children dying of starvation every day, while the U.S. spends $2 billion a week on the war.

“She’s an inspirational leader,” said Rev. Bob Bossie, who co-founded VITW and is now retired. “She’s radically committed to nonviolence.”  VCVN “is known across the country as an organization that’s not sitting on its heels, that’s taking risks in a nonviolent way to say we won’t be compliant, we will speak out again and again and stand with the people who are being oppressed,” he said.

The group “challenges us all to see what we more can do – what next step can I take,” he said.  “We can’t all go to war zones, but we can all do more.”

The announcement that the U.S. is withdrawing from Afghanistan is “very misleading,” Kellly said.  “It’s simply not true.  The Joint Special Operations forces, the most intimidating and fearsome warriors on the planet, will remain till 2024 and beyond.

“Our bases will be turned over the to Afghan government, which will lease them back to us.  We’re building the world’s largest embassy in Kabul – it’s really a huge base – and we’re building three prisons.  The night raids will continue at the insistence of the U.S.

“All these things are going to continue, so how can we say the U.S. is withdrawing from Afghanistan?  It’s hypocritical.

“And all these things mean the Taliban will keep fighting, and the people of Afghanistan will be subjected to another decade of warfare.”

Kathy Kelly is currently taking part in a VCNV march from Madison to Chicago.  She’s also on a panel on “How does war end” (3:15 p.m., Friday, May 18) at the Counter-Summit for Peace and Economic Justice at People’s Church, 941 W. Lawrence.

Malalai Joya

Born in Western Afghanistan in 1978, shortly before the Soviet invasion, Malalai Joya is of a generation that has “only known bloodshed, displacement, and occupation,” she writes in her book, “A Woman Among Warlords.”

Her father lost a leg fighting the Soviets, and she grew up in refugee camps.  She was not yet 20 when a women’s rights group sent her back to Afghanistan to start an underground school for girls, illegal under the Taliban.  She was 25 when, as a delegate to the Loya Jirga, she denounced the warlords who had taken over from the Tablian. She was accosted and insulted and finally removed from the assembly (see video below).

But her speech won widespread popular favor, and she was elected to the national assembly in 2005 – and then expelled in 2007 for making remarks deemed disrespectful.

She continues to campaign for peace, democracy, and women’s rights, though after several assassination attempts, she moves constantly between safehouses, attended by bodyguards.

In “A Woman Among Warlords,” Joya writes:  “The situation in Afghanistan is getting progressively worse. And not just for women, but for all Afghans. We are caught between two enemies — the Taliban on one side and the U.S./ NATO forces and their warlord friends on the other. And the dark-minded forces in our country are gaining power with every allied air strike that kills civilians, with every corrupt government official who grows fat on bribes and thievery, and with every criminal who escapes justice…

“In Afghanistan, democratic-minded people have been struggling for human and women’s rights for decades. Our history proves that these values cannot be imposed by foreign troops. As I never tire of telling my audiences, no nation can donate liberation to another nation. These values must be fought for and won by the people themselves. They can only grow and flourish when they are planted by the people in their own soil and watered by their own blood and tears.”

From a recent speech: “We need security and a helping hand from  friends around the world, not this endless U.S.-led ‘war on terror,’ which is in fact a war on the Afghan people….Today the soil of Afghanistan is full of land mines, bullets, and bombs – when what we really need is an invasion of hospitals, clinics, and schools for boys and girls.”

Medea Benjamin

Before she co-founded Code Pink, Medea Benjamin co-founded Global Exchange, an international human rights organization that helped force Nike to address sweatshop issues in the 1990s.

Code Pink – named for the Bush administration’s color-coded security alerts – has disrupted speeches by George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Karl Rove, Hillary Clinton, Benjamin Netanyahu and others, and has organized delegations to Iraq and Afghanistan.  Benjamin has a new book out on “Drone Warfare.”

“There’s no easy solution” to the problem of women’s rights in Afghanistan, she said. She notes that women she’s met with there have a range of opinions on how to proceed – and that, contrary to perceptions here, women outside cities find themselves in “pretty much the same situation” they were in under the Taliban. “They’re still going around in burqas.”

“Whether the U.S. pulls out this year or next year or the year after, there are still going to be fundamentalists, and women are still going to have to fight for their rights,” Benjamin said. “It’s going to have to be an indigenous solution.”

Many women there say “there will be no peace without a negotiated solution, and Afghan women must br at the table where negotiations are going on,” Benjamin said.  But with secret talks now going on between the U.S. the Taliban, she points out, that isn’t happening.

Medea Benjamin joins human rights activist Rafia Zakaria to discuss “Drone Wars,” Monday, May 14, 7 p.m. at the Heartland Cafe, 7000 N. Glenwood.  She’s also joining with colleagues from Code Pink in a panel of “creative tactics for peace and justice” at the Counter-Summit (Friday, May 18, 3:15 p.m.)

Confronting power

Malalai Joya’s speech to the Loya Jirga, December 17, 2003

Medea Benjamin confronts John Brennan, Special Assistant to the President on Counterterrorism, April 30, 2012, Washington DC

Kathy Kelly speaks to Missouri riot police at an anti-drone protest at Whiteman Air Force Base on April 15; three people seeking to present a war crimes indictment were arrested. (Seven more were arrested at an anti-drone protest at Volk Field in Camp Douglas, Wisconsin on April 24.)

Chicago Spring Tue, 01 May 2012 01:47:48 +0000 A May Day march and rally by Occupy Chicago on Tuesday launches the final weeks of the Chicago Spring, culminating with protests at the NATO summit later this month.

With the theme of immigrant, labor, and youth solidarity, an array of community groups and unions will rally at noon (Tuesday, May 1) at Union Park, 1501 W. Randolph, and march to the Federal Plaza, Adams and Dearborn.

Though it continues a recent Chicago tradition of immigrant rights marches on May Day going back to 2006, it was initiated by Occupy Chicago, and in particular the group’s labor committee, said Orlando Sepulvida of Occupy the Barrio.  Strong union involvement in the march is the result of interest on the part of rank-and-file union members participating in Occupy, he said.

“After six years, [the issue of immigration reform] is not resolved, and in some ways it is worse now for undocumented families,” said Sepulvida, who has been involved in the marches going back to 2006.

Questions about whether Occupy Chicago would last out its first winter were answered when an estimated 1,000 people participated in an April 7 “Freedom Festival” in Grant Park, with teach-ins on topics including non-violent direct action, the “black bloc,” NATO, and “Mayor 1 Percent’s Budget of Austerity.”

Moving to indoor quarters allowed the group to hold a steady series of educational events and strengthen a network of working committees, according to Mark Cassello at Indignant Left.  Chicago Spring and the NATO protest are making Chicago “the national hub of the Occupy movement this spring,” Costello writes.

Peoples Summit

A People’s Summit on May 12 and 13, at Occupy Chicago’s space at 500 W. Cermak, will kick off a week of actions leading up to the May 20 NATO summit protest.

Co-sponsored by Occupy Chicago and the Coalition Against NATO/G8, the summit will feature dozens of workshops and talks by Rev. Jesse Jackson, Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence (a frequent visitor to Afghanistan), Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, and Reiner Braun of No To NATO.

The keynoter will be Malalai Joya, a former member of the Afghan Parliament and women’s rights crusader.  In her early 20s, under Taliban rule, she set up a secret school for girls.  Elected to Parliament in 2005, she was expelled in 2007 after denouncing the presence of warlords and war criminals in the body, and causing a near-riot.  She has survived several assassination attempts.

“For ten years U.S. policymakers have misused the plight of Afghan women as an excuse to advance the war in Afghanistan,” Joya has said.  “Your governments have replaced the fundamentalist rule of the Taliban with another fundamentalist regime of warlords.  That is what your soldiers are dying for.”

Week of action

The week of action demonstrates Occupy Chicago’s capacity for connecting with organizing efforts in local communities.

On Monday, May 14, Occupy Chicago plans an action at a South Side school highlighting disinvestment in neighborhood schools, according to Brian Bean of the group’s summit working group; a May 15 an action with the theme “No human being is illegal” will draw connections between border walls impacting Mexican-Americans and Palestinians (who commemorate the date as Nakba Day), he said.

On Wednesday, May 16, Occupy Chicago and anti-eviction groups will march on Sheriff Tom Dart, calling on him to reinstate a moratorium on foreclosures; on Thursday, May 17, an environmental action will target NATO member Canada, which is promoting tar sands oil, which environmentalists call “the world’s dirtiest oil.”  And Saturday the 19th, an action highlighting the closing of mental health clinics is planned, Bean said.

On Friday, May 18, National Nurses United and other groups will rally at Daley Plaza at 12:15 p.m., focusing on the union’s call for a financial transaction tax that could raise $350 billion a year as an alternative to austerity policies.

Counter-summit for peace

On Friday and Saturday, May 18 and 19,  a Counter-Summit for Peace and Economic Justice will be held by the American Friends Service Committee and the Network for a NATO-Free Future at the People’s Church, 941 W. Lawrence.  It will feature experts and activists from around the world, including author Tom Hayden (of Chicago 7 fame), Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies, Sarita Gupta of Jobs With Justice, and Saraia Saher of Afghans for Peace.

“NATO’s new role as a global military alliance” – and U.S. and NATO plans to maintain troops in Afghanistan for another decade — will be examined, along with “campaigns to bring the troops home and to create a future free of wars, occupation and the costs of a militarized foreign policy.”

Sunday, May 20 is the big march starting at noon from Grant Park to McCormick Place, where the NATO summit will be getting started.  It will be led off by a contingent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, who will call out NATO generals for a ceremony returning their Global War on Terror medals.

Endless war

“What is the strategy? No one can articulate it,” says  Aaron Hughes of Iraq Veterans Against the War, pointing out that the new U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership agreement will allow thousands of U.S. and NATO troops to remain (and continue controversial night raids) after official withdrawal of combat troops. “How many more people are going to have to suffer in this endless war?”  IVAW is calling for immediate withdrawal.

Speakers at the Grant Park rally will include Rev. Jesse Jackson, Malalai Joya, Kathy Kelly and others, according to Eric Rudder of CANG8.

And that’s not all.  With the NATO summit concluding May 21, Occupy Chicago is planning an action day for democracy for Monday that will target Boeing Corporation on three issues, according to Bean: it’s record of tax avoidance, its role as supplier of weapons for NATO adventures, and its lead in the NATO host committee.

“They’ve raised $55 million to wine and dine these warmongers, while we’re closing clinics to save $3 million,” Bean said.  “It’s obscene.”

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Protestors offered Daley Plaza permit Tue, 20 Mar 2012 21:08:28 +0000 A California activist who holds a city permit for a rally at Daley Plaza on May 20 has offered to step aside for a local anti-war coalition, organizers say.

The city rejected a permit application from the Coalition Against NATO/G8 to move their rally and march from May 19 – when the G8 summit was originally scheduled to meet – to May 20, when NATO will be convening at McCormick Place, saying someone else has a permit for the Daley Plaza that day.

But CANG8 has heard from the individual holding the permit that she would step aside to accommodate the coalition’s plan, Joe Iosbaker said.  He said the city has been informed of this development.

The city rejected CANG8’s plan for a march from the Daley Plaza to McCormick Place, offering an alternative route that Iosbaker said was unacceptable because  it’s far less visible.  He said city’s argument that it lacks manpower to police the original route is “absurd.”