Rally for the Troops in Fayetteville

Chapel Hill Herald, Saturday, March 19, 2005
[modified slightly from published version to reflect that the event is now past]

Last Saturday's March and Rally to Bring the Troops Home Now in Fayetteville was not your typical peace rally. The location was chosen to focus on support for the troops.

Among the main sponsors were Veterans For Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War and Military Families Speak Out.

Fayetteville, of course, is the home of Fort Bragg, one of the largest military installations in the country. Twenty percent of those serving in Iraq hail from North Carolina.

The event promised a supportive environment for soldiers and military families concerned about the Iraq war. It allowed them to speak out and to raise their questions about Bush administration policy while still having their patriotism honored.

Participating in a rally in Fayetteville, rather than in Raleigh or on Franklin Street, was an important step in taking anti-war activism beyond the merely symbolic. Indian writer Arundhati Roy has said recently that the Gandhian approach to social change, such as Gandhi's historic march to the sea to make salt, entailed "[not] just a symbolic weekend march, but struck at the heart of the economic policies of the colonial regime."

Roy is critical of contemporary movements for too often relying on symbolic gestures. "What has happened in the evolution of nonviolent resistance is that it's become more and more symbolic, and less and less real. When a symbol unmoors itself from what it symbolizes, it loses meaning. It becomes ineffective."

Although still short of the immediate challenge to power of Gandhi's Salt March or the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Fayetteville rally spoke directly to issues surrounding the impact of Bush's war on the people of North Carolina and it allowed concerned residents from across the state to stand in solidarity with the military families at the heart of the protest.

The Bush administration has not exactly been kind to our men and women in uniform. As well as its controversial cuts in veterans' benefits, the administration continues its backdoor draft though "stop-loss" extensions for enlistees and assigning National Guard units for extended service in Iraq.

That this is unjust is no radical notion. An opinion piece in USA Today last week said, "many Guard members and their families are upset about that bad faith deal. It's backfiring and is another reason why the best way to support our troops in Iraq is to bring them home, sooner rather than later."

One of the organizations setting the tone for the event was Military Families Speak Out. Formed in November 2002, the group has thousands of members who have relatives or loved ones in the military and who oppose the war in Iraq.

Military Families Speak Out insists that "we have both a special need and a unique role to play in speaking out against war in Iraq. It is our loved ones who are, or have been, or will be on the battlefront. It is our loved ones who are risking injury and death. It is our loved ones who are returning scarred from their experiences. It is our loved ones who will have to live with the injuries and deaths among innocent Iraqi civilians."

The N.C. Council of Churches was also a sponsor of the event. It links its participation to reflection on the role of North Carolina's Quaker community in peace activism: "The Iraq war has generated a large number of veterans, soldiers and military families who find this war unjustifiable. Quaker House in Fayetteville offers GI counseling to many of these people and urges allies to support them in their call to end the war now. Quakers, or Friends, are a traditional peace church, and a member denomination of the council. Their example challenges all people of faith to stand publicly against war."

Anti-war veteran Lou Plummer recently wrote in The Chapel Hill Herald, "I can think of at least 80 reasons [to go to the rally in Fayetteville]. Each of those reasons has a name and each were members of our community prior to their deaths in Iraq." Plummer refers to the GIs lost in his hometown of Fayetteville alone. "As far as I'm concerned, what we're doing in Iraq today is not worth one more life. Not one."



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