WASHINGTON, July 4: An alliance of anti-war groups began a 24-hour fast outside the White House on America’s Independence Day — July 4 — to press their demand for withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.
With more than 30 events planned across the country, the anti-war movement said it was trying to send a message to Congress and the White House: “End the occupation of Iraq. Bring all the troops home now. No war on Iran. And stop shredding our civil liberties and civil rights in the name of fighting terrorism.”
United for Peace and Justice, America’s largest anti-war coalition, has called for local events to demonstrate that anti-war sentiment is dominant in the country.
In Washington, CodePINK: Women for Peace group kicked-off a ‘troops home fast’.
In Philadelphia, religious and community leaders proclaimed a ‘declaration of peace,’ announcing plans to engage in non-violent civil resistance if Congress fails to begin bringing the troops home by Sept 21.
In Butte, Montana peace groups entered a huge Statue of Liberty making a peace sign in the state’s largest July 4 parade.
More than 2,700 activists in Washington pledged to refuse food for at least 24 hours to express solidarity with Iraqi, American and other victims of the Iraq war.
More than a dozen grandmothers from New York, who were taken into custody last October after they tried to enlist in the armed services at a recruiting centre on Times Square, also joined the peace rally.
The list of anticipated fasters includes anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, mother of an American serviceman killed in Iraq, and Michael Berg, the father of an American citizen who was captured by insurgents in Iraq and later beheaded.
Several members of Congress and a British and a Canadian lawmaker are also participating in the fast. Actors Danny Glover, Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, novelist Alice Walker as well as country musician Willie Nelson are among a long list of celebrities who are fasting.
Beginning Tuesday, a smaller group of fasting people will gather every day in front of the White House, while others take part in this rolling fast at their hometowns.
President Bush has refused to set a timetable for troop withdrawal, arguing that doing so will embolden terrorists and insurgents.
He says that US troops will come home only when Iraqi forces are able to stand on their own and defend their country’s ‘nascent’ democracy.
Protest organisers disagree. They say that instead of quelling violence in Iraq, the US military presence is stoking violent passions and allowing the country’s rival factions and ethnic groups to drag their feet when it comes to confronting killers and insurgents.
Public opinion surveys in the US show that Americans are growing increasingly pessimistic about the Bush administration’s mission in Iraq. But polls also show that most Americans do not support an immediate troop withdrawal.
July 4 is generally observed as a patriotic day. It was on this day in 1776, the founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence from Britain.
“We are involved in an immoral, illegal, unconscionable war in Iraq,” Vinie Burrows, a great-grandmother and a peace activist told reporters. She was one of 18 members of the Granny Peace Brigade participating in demonstrations near the White House.
About 20 supporters of President Bush’s Iraq war policy also gathered under a banner that read “Cindy Sheehan’s starving for attention.”
“Unfortunately, there is tremendous violence going on every day in Iraq, and the presence of US troops is not stopping that,” said protest organiser Medea Benjamin. “We are very frustrated. Here we are, more than three years into this war, and we see no end in sight,” she added.
Michael McPhearson, executive director of Veterans for Peace, said: “From our own history we know a nation cannot be free while occupied...we must allow the Iraqi people to determine their own destiny.”