It has been eight long years since the invasion of Afghanistan, which was somewhat ignored by protesters over the Bush years, since the attack on Iraq took center stage. Obama rode into the presidency on the wave of high anti-war sentiment and promises of healthcare for all.
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The democrats took control in 2006 of the Congress because people were fed up with the war in Iraq. During Obama's candidacy, youth were mobilized into action and the entire democratic base congealed to take over the White House, and further their gains in the Congress. People in this Country expressed their dissatisfaction with not only the wars, but the overall pillaging of the middle and working class people by the republican party. Obama's "political base" had certain expectations of his presidency, which at this point have been dashed against the proverbial wall. His approval ratings are plummeting, and that's not a coincidence.
This past weekend with actions in Washington, D.C., began with the "Eyes Wide Open Afghanistan," exhibit, hosted by Military Families Speak Out, American Friends Service Committee and Veterans for Peace. On Saturday, October 3rd and Sunday, October 4th on display for a continuous 36 hours at the "Ellipse" in Washington, directly in front of the White House front lawn, volunteers arranged 859 pairs of combat boots representing the fallen soldiers and marines from Afghanistan. Since the weekend, the death toll has risen to 869. In the grass alongside the combat boots over 100 pairs of civilian shoes, only a representation of the deaths inflicted by the invasion which began in 2001. For the entire weekend, hundreds of people, if not thousands, passed by and witnessed the human cost of war. The message is one of sobering and grim reality, which was not lost on anyone who witnessed the display.
By Monday morning, activists were ready to conduct a more vociferous action, calling attention to the continuation of both the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, US torture and lack of prosecutions thereof, and the absence of any viable healthcare plan for the millions of people who need it. Hundreds gathered at McPhersonSq.Park, where a rally kicked off at 10 AM and by 11:30, people stepped off to head to the White House. The coalition for October 5th, planned diverse actions throughout the day, and something new and different was happening. It was not only planned for a weekday, but once again committed; determined and serious activists emerged from the ashes of the anti-war movement. Those protesting came from all over the Country. They came with many issues that they wanted addressed by the president who campaigned on the slogan of "change", and which had gone unheeded and unimplemented.
At the White House
At 10:45 am, a small contingent of "torture victims" broke off from the main rally to head over and with plans to stand at the White House press gate where the press secretary, Robert Gibbs, was starting the daily press briefing. Directly in front of the gate, about 25 people started chanting "Healthcare not Warfare" and "Bring the troops home now!" with 3 megaphones blaring into the garden. Press was delayed from entering the area, and had to go around the building in order to get inside.
One of the first questions asked at the briefing was about the protesters outside the gates. Gibbs responded nonchalantly by saying the White House was unaware of any protests, and that this type of thing represented the "greatness of our country." However, the press corps went on asking questions concerning the Afghanistan war policy. Gibbs then responded by saying that there is "no doubt that we will hear in tomorrow's meetings, from members on Capitol Hill, ranges of and very diverse opinions on going forward.." When questioned further, he stated that President Obama has "no plans to walk away from the war in Afghanistan."
Outside, however, there was a different scene, one in which clearly marked a turning point in the anti-war movement. The gathering was diffuse in their messages but cohesive in their presentation. There were those wearing "orange jumpsuits" in solidarity with the detainees held in Guantanamo and Bagram, Afghanistan who protested the decision to stall on prosecuting war criminals and not shutting down "Gitmo", which Obama had promised to do. Set up directly in front of the gate was a "detention cage", and a "waterboarding demonstration" took place to show the media exactly what it meant to be tortured.