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Thursday, March 17, 2005 11:50 am

Why we speak out

Springfield peace activist protest the war early last year — almost 1,000 soldiers have died since then

On March 15, 2003, just days before the United States went to war against Iraq, more than 70 of us stood vigil in front of the Paul Finley Federal Building to speak out against the coming attack. We’ve been there almost every Saturday since. Our numbers have dwindled considerably, but the dedicated few who remain can attest to the varied response our presence has received.

Most observers move passively along. A surprising number honk and wave or raise thumbs up and otherwise support our efforts, with some variation on “We’re glad you’re here.” Fewer people frown or raise a different digit. Some even tell us to go home, apparently having difficulty imagining that we could be Springfieldians. We like to believe that our witness reminds our neighbors and visitors that citizens serve as patriots by registering dissent to war and suggesting alternatives to violence.

This war affects all Springfield residents in many ways. Some of us look at its effects on our loved ones, primarily the young men and women fighting in Iraq. The number of military deaths during the “transition” — more than 800 since June 28, 2004 — has surpassed the loss of life during the invasion and occupation.

Because so many members of our Illinois National Guard have served in this war, or may serve at some future date, we fear for their safety and mourn the loss of life, limb, and mental stability for far too many soldiers. Many parents worry that their children will be caught up in a military draft, suspecting that our government cannot continue an endless “war on terror” without resorting to conscription.

Some of us also consider the war’s impact on others: those Iraqis who have lived through the devastation of their land, the declining health and even death of their children and other family members, and the loss of their own livelihoods. Some estimates suggest that Iraq has an unemployment rate of almost 60 percent as a result of 13 years of U.N. sanctions followed by war and occupation. According to www.iraqbodycount.org, between 16,240 and 18,509 Iraqi civilians have died during the war. But the actual numbers may be much higher. In October, the authors of a study published in the British medical journal the Lancet estimated the number of civilian deaths related to the war at about 100,000. And last week, leading public-health officials in the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada, and Spain demanded an independent probe to count the number of Iraqi dead, saying that the Iraqi ministry of health is seriously underestimating the number.

Although the Bush administration’s request for an additional $82 billion is likely to pass Congress, our national debt — a dubious legacy for our children and grandchildren — has grown astronomically, Social Security is threatened, states are decreasing funding for an already ailing Medicaid system, other domestic programs are being shortchanged, and the environment is at greater risk than it has been for years.

All of these policies affect Springfield’s poorest of poor, marginal wage earners, students, elderly, folks just getting by, and people who consider themselves faithful proponents of spiritual values espousing love over greed.

Of course, there are still those who aren’t troubled by the inconsistencies — some would call them lies — of an administration that felt justified in the pre-emptive attack of a sovereign nation. However, many attribute ulterior motives in what they consider a war for oil and dominance in the region. They look at companies such as Halliburton, Bechtel, and Lockheed Martin as war profiteers and see that the Department of Defense has yet to make good on the promise of adequately equipping our own soldiers.

Many of us see that the only realistic solution to terrorism is global justice promoted by a United States that influences other countries by positive example: respect for the earth and its dwindling resources, policies rewarding businesses that support and encourage fair trade, healthy and open diplomacy that helps to stabilize governments, and the reduction and eventual elimination of our own weapons of mass destruction.

Recently I asked Bill Houlihan, one of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin’s staff members, what we can do to effect change in our government’s policies. His answer: “Educate yourselves and inform others.”

Taking his words to heart, we have compiled a month-long series to counter terror by building justice. Hope to see you there!

Peace Plan

Area religious organizations and peace groups mark the second anniversary of the U.S. attack on Iraq with a monthlong series of meetings, vigils, concerts, and protests.

The observances begin this Saturday, March 19, with an 10: 30 a.m. interfaith service at the First Church of the Brethren, 2116 Yale Blvd., followed by a noon vigil for peace at the steps of the Capitol, Second Street and Capitol Avenue.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 23, area poets and writers speak out on peace in the Carnegie South room of Lincoln Library, Seventh Street and Capitol Avenue.

Noon-2 p.m. on Good Friday, March 25, peace activists will observe the Way of the Cross, starting at the state Supreme Court building, Second Street and Capitol Avenue. (For information, call 217-523-4049.)

A noon vigil will be held Saturday, March 26, at the Paul Findley Federal Building, Sixth and Monroe streets.

Jessica Gonko, director of the Springfield Peace Camp, leads children’s readings in Carnegie North, Lincoln Library, on Saturday, March 26, from 1 to 3 p.m.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 29, Tim Godshall, outreach and development director at the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund, speaks in Carnegie North, Lincoln Library.

A noon vigil will be held Saturday, April 2, at the Federal Building.

Sue Morris of Pax Christi Springfield, speaks at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 5, in Carnegie North, Lincoln Library.

A noon vigil will be held Saturday, April 9, at the Federal Building.

On Friday, April 15, a tax day fundraiser to benefit the Springfield Peace Camp will be held at the Abraham Lincoln Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 745 Woodside Rd.

The events are co-sponsored by Church World Service, the Mary Wood Branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the Middle East Peace Project, and Pax Christi Springfield.

For more information, call 217-546-5454.

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