On Sunday, February 11th, a group of antiwar students turned out to challenge Barack Obama’s position on Iraq as he held a rally at the UIC Pavilion to kick-start his campaign.
Approximately two dozen antiwar activists from UIC, Northeastern Illinois University and Northwestern University turned out among the crowd of 7,000 Obama supporters to send the message that "antiwar" candidates do not vote to fund war.
The protest included members of the Campus Antiwar Network, Students for Social Justice, the Campus Greens and the International Socialist Organization; many of whom have signed onto the following statement regarding that day’s action:
Currently, Barack Obama is positioning himself as the presidential candidate with antiwar promises; however, he does not stand for immediately removing the troops from Iraq. His plan for redeployment in March 2008 is based on the Iraqi government meeting specific timetables and benchmarks. Given the current situation in Iraqi and the illegitimacy of the U.S. backed Iraqi – timetables and benchmarks are false hopes.
Sixty percent of the U.S. population believes that invading Iraq was wrong and 40% believe we should deny funding for it now. Therefore, we feel it is only fair to demand from Obama antiwar action now — especially given his position as a U.S. Senator.
During the rally, Obama repeated that the war was not authorized in the first place, which brought enthusiastic applause from the crowd, and he critiqued the position of candidates like Sen. Hillary Clinton. While the crowd cheered Obama for talking about the need for healthcare reform within the country we took the opportunity to unfurl an antiwar banner that read "Obama: Stand up! Cut the funding!" and began chanting "Cut the war funding–bring the troops home." Some in the crowd initially reacted positively; but Obama tried to hush our chant stating, "We’ll get to that later."
We believe that the lack of funding for healthcare in this country (as witnessed in the recent proposed cuts for Cook County Hospitals) has a direct relation to the war in Iraq that is chewing up $2 billion per week. If we are going to talk about the lack of / cuts to public services we have to talk about the war in Iraq; the two issues are bound together.
Many have felt that we interrupted the rally one to many times. Our plan was to drop the banner and chant once during a pause to make our presence noticed — which we did. But because we were being roughed up and "escorted" out of the pavilion by security we felt it necessary to again make our point. It was then that we started a second chant; "No justice, no peace–U.S. out of the Middle East."
Later in his speech, Obama acknowledged our concerns. "I’m glad they were there," he told the crowd. "They feel a sense of urgency about a war that should have never been authorized and a war that should have never been fought." But Obama added that he doesn’t want to cut funding for the war. "We need to bring this war to an end," he said, "but we need to do it in a way that makes our troops safe." In reality, the longer the troops stay in Iraq – the more unsafe they are.
Our action during Obama’s rally was is not an isolated incident. Over the past few weeks there has been a wave on sit-ins at the offices of Representatives and Senators. At the beginning of the month Obama and Dick Durbin’s Washington offices became the subject of a sit-in organized by the Occupation Project. At the sit-in four people were arrested in each office as protestors read off names of dead Iraqis and U.S. Soldiers. In Los Angeles at the Pacific Palisades Democratic Club, Rep. Henry Waxman [D] was confronted by a banner reading "Liberals do not fund occupation." It is in this spirit of antiwar protest that we preceded. We feel that it is our responsibility as an antiwar movement to hold each elected representative who continues to vote for funding this war responsible for the loss of both Iraqi and U.S. lives under this occupation.
Bring the troops home, not in March 2009, not in March 2008, but NOW!
Ireri Unzuerta Carrasco