American Friends Service Committee – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop Chicago Community Stories Mon, 19 Feb 2018 15:45:09 +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.”

]]> 1
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.”

]]> 2
Counter-recruitment activists charged Thu, 03 Aug 2006 06:00:00 +0000 Six peace activists charged with disorderly conduct July 2 after leafleting near military recruiters at the Taste of Chicago pled not guilty this week, and battery charges against a seventh were dismissed.

The next showdown could come at the Air and Water Show.

At an August 1 arraignment in criminal court, the six turned down an offer of three months probation and $25 fines if they pled guilty, said Melissa Woo, a summer intern at American Friends Service Committee and one of those charged.

A guilty plea “would have set a bad precedent,” validating police efforts to ban counter-recruitment activity, Woo said. “It’s important to take a stand.”

Courts have found leafleting to be an activity protected by the First Amendment right to free speech, said Jeffrey Frank of the National Lawyers Guild, one of the attorneys for the six. The leafleters were not obstructing traffic or access to recruiters, he said.

The leafleters were arrested when they refused police directions to move to an ad-hoc “free-speech zone” far from the recruiters and other traffic in an area between Grant Park dumpsters and porta-potties, Woo said. Other officers had other ideas of where the supposed zone was located, she said.

“I thought the whole country was a free speech zone,” she said.

The six requested a jury trial, and a preliminary court date was set for August 8. Because they requested a jury trial for misdemeanor charges, the defendants must now raise $1,500 for court costs, Woo said.

Among those arrested were several students, a member of Code Pink, and a legal observer from the NLG.

Battery charges were dismissed against a seventh counter-recruitment leafleter in an August 2 hearing. Zoryada Ortiz was charged with battery when she spilled a soft drink on a recruiter after the recruiter grabbed her arm, said Darlene Gramigna of AFSC.

Over the last couple years police have regularly ordered activists to leave the area of military recruiters, but when commanders were brought in the activists were allowed to remain, said Amy Meyers of the Chicagoland Coalition Opposed to the Militarization of Youth. But at the Blues Fest in June, police “pushed and shoved” leafleters away from recruiters, and commanders “told activists they cannot have signs, pass out leaflets, or have any visible presence within the area of the recruiting booth,” she said.

Military recruitment booths feature semitrailers with a range of enticements for youth. “They have computer games where you get to shoot and kill people – but of course you never die in the games,” Meyers said. “They have climbing walls, they have prizes for things like if you can do 50 push-ups, they have booths where you can have dogtags made.” To participate, young people have to provide recruiters with contact information.

“We go, yeah, that stuff is cool-looking, but here are some facts” – including the high incidence of sexual harassment of women in the military, lower promotion rates for minorities, difficulty obtaining promised education assistance – “and there’s a good chance you’ll end up in a war,” Meyers said.

The Chicagoland Coalition also works in high schools, and Meyers researches college scholarships and other alternative opportunities for students considering enlistment.

Counter-recruitment activists from peace, religious, and veterans groups will be on hand, as they have for several years, both days of the Air and Water Show, August 19 and 20. “It’s usually even more contentious at the Air and Water Show,” said Gramigna.