I'm marching today in New York City. I'm marching against the continued war in Iraq and against an escalated war in Afghanistan.
I celebrated (like most Americans) the election of our new President. And I breathed a huge sigh of relief at the end of our national nightmare - the bad dream that was the ugly and frightening reality of the Bush regime. I worked for that election. Stacey and I spent a day in Philadelphia to help determine, in some small way, the outcome in the swing state of Pennsylvania.
With the election of Barack Obama, Americans were saying that they had had enough! Enough of war. Enough of the racism that had divided our land for so long. Enough! They wanted to restore our country's image in the eyes of the world. They voted to turn it in a different direction than Bush and his gang had taken it. They wanted to, it seemed to me, begin directing our national treasure toward meeting the dire needs of our people: for universal health care, for a revitalized system of education, for affordable housing.
The election took place with the war and occupation of Iraq raging in the background. That was, perhaps, the single most important and glaring difference between the candidacies of Obama and McCain. Obama wanted to end that tragic and immoral episode in our nation's history not only because it was wrong but because it was robbing our country of any possible solution to the economic crisis that was stalking the land. McCain, on the other hand, wanted to press on in Bush's endless "war on terror."
Brooklynites mark the death of the 3,000th U.S soldier and the countless Iraqis who died in that war. Today, the count is well over 4,0000 and the war continues.
Today, sadly, the war in Iraq is far from over. Though he promised to begin the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the very day he would take office at the rate of one division per month, still, as of today, virtually none have returned home. And even at the end of President Obama's stated withdrawal, 50,000 U.S. troops will remain in that country - rebranded as "advisers" by a Pentagon that insists on keeping a toehold in that oil-rich country.
Then there is Afghanistan. The so-called "good" war; the war that some insisted should have been fought in the first place after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. According to press reports, Mr. Obama, ignoring the advice of his Vice-President not to get involved in a morass that history has shown it to be, has seemingly sided with his generals who, stupidly and blindly, see a military solution to the deteriorating situation in that country and, beyond, to Pakistan.
This escalation in Afghanistan will be, in the prediction of many, a tragic mistake. It brings to mind the tragic history of the Johnson administration which had made plans for a War On Poverty and a Great Society only to find them obliterated by the skyrocketing costs of the the Vietnam war. The question raised then was whether we could have both "guns and butter. The answer that history supplied was an emphatic "NO."
There is no military solution to be imposed in Afghanistan. As Obama, himself, told us during the campaign, negotiation not endless war is the way forward. But if that's so, why allow the generals to send another 24,000 U.S. troops to a conflict that we are already losing? Sending more troops is a slippery slope that has a motive force and a driving logic all its own. And it's counter-productive: A recent BBC and ABC poll showed that 70% of Afghans are opposed to an increase in U.S. troops. Instead of overcoming our enemy, an escalation, with its increase in misery and death for the beleaguered population, will only serve to strenghten the Taliban and Al Queda by driving new recruits their way.
These wars will continue to rob our country of the funds we need to solve the problems that are overwhelming us: increasing joblessness, lack of decent and affordable housing, a school sytem in dire need of resources and a health care system that is the disgrace of the industrialized world. Just as LBJ's Great Society foundered on the funds usurped for the Vietnam War, so surely will Obama's grand and much-needed reforms collapse on the continuation of the Iraq and Afghanistan debacles.
Martin Luther King said it far more eloquently than I could ever write when, in 1967, he parted company from the other civil rights leaders to bravely stand on principle in opposition to the war in Vietnam. In his famous "Beyond Vietnam" speech on April 4th of that year in New York's Riverside Church he said:
"Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that America will be are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land."
That is why I march today. I want to guarantee that the most progressive president this country has ever seen is successful in turning our country around and leading us to a new society that values its people more than its material things, or as Dr. King so profoundly said in 1967 "we need to rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society."
(Dr. King's entire speech is reprinted here.)
If you're in New York, you can join the march by gathering on White Street (2 blocks south of Canal Street) between Broadway and Lafayette at 11 am. One of Dr. King's associates and a pioneer of our civil rights movement, Rev. James Lawson, will be walking with us. I suspect that Dr. King would have been marchng for peace today as well.