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Winter of Discontent

by CounterPunch Wire

Chicago.

A 34 day, liquids-only fast to end the war against and occupation of Iraq will begin in Washington, D.C. on February 15. Fast participants will consume only water or juice, and will maintain a daily vigil at the U.S. Capitol, lobby members of Congress and conduct sit-ins at key Congressional offices. The start and end dates of the fast commemorate the third anniversary of worldwide protests against the invasion of Iraq, and the date of the U.S. invasion. The activities are part of growing grassroots opposition to economic and military warfare against Iraq.

Five peace activists will conduct the 34-day fast in Washington as part of a series of activities called the “Winter of Our Discontent” focusing on ending the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Citing the destruction caused by 15 years of economic and military warfare waged against that country, they seek a commitment from the U.S. to provide full funding for the reconstruction of Iraq. These objectives stand in sharp contrast to the agenda of the Bush Administration which is seeking an additional $120 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while announcing that it will seek no additional funds for Iraq reconstruction.

In addition, the Winter of Our Discontent seeks the unconditional cancellation of the “odious debt” incurred by Saddam Hussein’s regime and of the war reparations charges imposed against Iraq by the United Nations for Hussein’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait; respect for human rights of Iraqis as guaranteed by international law; and no internationally forced privatization of Iraq’s oil wealth and resources.

The Winter of Our Discontent is organized by Voices for Creative Nonviolence. Members traveled to Iraq during the era of economic sanctions to openly challenge U.S. law, and lived in Iraq prior to and during the U.S. invasion in 2003.

The five people participating in the entire 34-day fast are Jeff Leys, Cynthia Banas, Ed Kinane, Joel Gulledge and Mike Ferner. Kathy Kelly, three times nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and other members of Voices for Creative Nonviolence will participate in portions of the fast in Washington, and around the country.

Bios for the five fasters:

Jeff Leys, 41, is co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. He traveled to Iraq in February 2003 with Voices in the Wilderness, a campaign of civil disobedience which existed to end U.S. economic sanctions against Iraq. He returned to Iraq in November 2003 with Christian Peacemaker Teams. Prior to joining VCNV, Leys worked as a labor representative for SEIU District 1199 in Wisconsin and for AFT in Kansas. Leys participated in a Plowshares action in 1985, serving two years in prison for nonviolently disarming a Navy transmitter system (since closed) in northern Wisconsin which served an integral role in U.S. first strike nuclear strategy. His work has also included: advocacy for Native American treaty rights; issues of homelessness; nuclear weapons; and U.S. involvement in Central America in the 1980’s.

Cynthia Banas, retired librarian and longtime UNICEF volunteer, lived in Iraq for a total of 11 months between 2001 and 2003. A member of the Iraq Peace Team whose goal was to prevent the invasion of Iraq and report back to colleagues the situation on the ground, Banas lived in Baghdad before, during and after the three-week Shock and Awe terror bombing. She witnessed first hand the efforts of peace people who came to Baghdad from countries world-wide to attempt to prevent the USA attack upon Iraq. She witnessed first hand the invasion, the looting and the ongoing cruel occupation and the suffering of the Iraqi people and the beginning of the resistance during the autumn of 2003.

Ed Kinane formerly worked on Wall Street. In the 70s he taught high school in Kenya (in a remote one-room Quaker school) and college anthropology in Seattle. In the late 80s and early 90s Ed worked with Peace Brigades International accompanying threatened human rights workers – in Guatemala, El Salvador, Haiti and Sri Lanka — to help protect them from death squads. Since the mid 90s Ed has been a persistent critic of the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, GA. For his nonviolent efforts against the SOA he has twice gone to federal prison serving a total of 14 months. In 2003 he spent five months in Iraq with Voices in the Wilderness prior to, during and after the U.S. invasion. Ed has long been active with the Syracuse Peace Council. A long-time conscientious objector to the gas-guzzling internal combustion engine, Ed avoids driving and has never owned a car.

Mike Ferner has served as an independent member of the Toledo City Council; organized for the public employees’ union, AFSCME; and worked as communications director for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), and for POCLAD, the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy. He traveled twice to Iraq, with a Voices in the Wilderness delegation just prior to the U.S. invasion in 2003, and in 2004 for two months as a freelance writer. His book about those trips, Inside the Red Zone: A Veteran For Peace Reports from Iraq, (Praeger) is due out in August, 2006. He served as a Navy Hospital Corpsman during Vietnam, received an Honorable Discharge as a conscientious objector, and is a member of Veterans For Peace.

Joel Gulledge, 26, grew up in Bruce, MS, and studies Sociology. Over the years Joel has volunteered at homeless and battered women’s shelters, worked with the Southern Baptist Convention in a Boston outreach program for youth and homeless, organized benefit concerts, and is a regular volunteer with the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, SUSTAIN, and Food Not Bombs. From December 2004 to January 2005, Joel traveled the Occupied Palestinian Territories with the Memphis Peace Team. He picked olives, planted olive trees in demolished groves, confronted Israeli checkpoints, and hung out with ordinary families. He then joined the Wheels of Justice speaking tour to bring these stories of occupation, nonviolence and dignity in the face of humiliation and violence back to the US. Joel is currently a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

For more information visit the Voices website: www.vcnv.org

or contact Mike Ferner: mike.ferner@sbcglobal.net

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