The Rev. Charlie Mulholland, the local activist priest who died in 2001, once called for a demonstration at the Greenville post office, a frequent gathering place for left-wing pickets of all kinds in that Eastern North Carolina town.
When someone at the Greenville Peace Committee meeting complained about yet another demonstration at the post office, Mulholland raised his voice and said, “If you don’t demonstrate at the post office, what are you going to do?”
On the eve of Saturday’s now-annual antiwar march and rally in Fayetteville to observe the third anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, some people may be wondering about the value of another protest march in the city that is home to the nation’s largest Army base to oppose a war that seems endless.
While much about protest No. 3 will be the same–even some of the banners will be reused, says Fayetteville-based organizer Chuck Fager–some things will be different.
“We always have said that we support the troops and this year that’s more true than ever,” says Fager, director of Quaker House, a Fayetteville organization that supports GIs seeking discharge from the military. A recent poll shows 72 percent of the U.S. troops in Iraq want to be home within a year and 29 percent want to go home right now, Fager says.
“In a sense, this year more than ever before, we’re not just speaking to the troops, we’re speaking for the troops. We’re certainly not speaking against the troops. We’re hoping to be a voice for people who are not able to have a voice,” he says. “The atmosphere here is changing rapidly, and I’m not sure we’re even keeping up with it. We are right, the war is wrong, and now even the troops know it and are willing to say so to pollsters.”
Fager likens Saturday’s action to a lone pearl on a string.
“It is one event in what is going to need to be a long series of events of many different sorts,” he says.
Liz Seymour, a spokeswoman for the interim steering committee of the N.C. Peace and Justice Coalition, the main sponsor of the march, said this year more of the people working on the march are newcomers who became active because they were inspired after attending previous Fayetteville events.
Seymour said she knows Saturday’s event will not make an impact on George Bush, but it will likely be part of an effort to build a comprehensive, long-range movement that goes beyond stopping the Iraq war.
“It’s not about the right combination of programs and words to change the minds of the people elected to higher office,” Seymour says. “The point is to broaden the movement, to give people direction toward their political goals. It’s more about being in it for the long haul. It’s more a demonstration of the way people are feeling the world could work.”
Seymour says this year’s gathering may be smaller than last year’s crowd of more than 4,000 because several national groups, such as Iraq Veterans Against the War and Military Families Speak Out, will skip Fayetteville to be involved in a march from Mobile, Ala., to New Orleans, linking Iraqi war victims with victims displaced by Hurricane Katrina. It was those families and veterans who gave last year’s event a national focus.
The steady decline in Bush’s approval rating is an indication that more and more people are linking objections to the war with objections to Bush’s overall policies, such as the PATRIOT Act, illegal domestic spying and allegations of torture at U.S.-operated prisons, Seymour says.
“It’s all part of a larger mess,” Seymour says. “The movement is growing in people who are working on social justice issues and linking them to the anti-war movement.”
Says Fager: “It would be nice if there was one simple plan that everybody could follow, get in line with, that would guarantee to stop the war in 90 days or six months or whatever. I don’t know what that plan is, and I don’t know anybody else who knows it. But I believe, in a sense, you get enough mosquitoes attacking the elephant and you can get it to change direction.”
Being part of a large march and rally infuses people with hope, Fager says.
“You come away feeling better; you come away feeling stronger, and that’s as important as anything else,” he says. “So the outcome of what I’m looking for is that they’ll be able to go home and keep on keeping on some more.” x
For details about the march in Fayetteville and anti-war activities in the Triangle, see IndyGO: A&E Calendar: Act Now.