“Stop the Machine! Create a New World!” and “Human Needs, Not Corporate Greed!” are the rallying cries of a movement, October2011.org, that launched on June 6 this year, calling for the occupation, on October 6 (yesterday), of Freedom Plaza in Washington D.C. on an open-ended basis. The movement is calling for nothing less than the total transformation of American politics, but the immediate focus today is on the war in Afghanistan, which began exactly ten years ago.
Bringing the war to an end ought to be a priority for the American people on a number of fronts.
Firstly, the war is unwinnable. Ousting al-Qaeda from Afghanistan may have been a success, but the battle for hearts and minds was lost early on, through bombing raids that killed thousands of civilians, and the casual and imprecise violence that led to the imprisonment and abuse of hundreds of Afghan Taliban conscripts in Guantánamo and Bagram. To topple the Taliban, the US worked with brutal warlords, whose corruption, in many cases, had prompted the rise of the Taliban in the first place, and although the Taliban were ousted from power, the pointless diversion into Iraq was ruinous for the muddled and ill-conceived nation-building mission in Afghanistan.
Secondly, the cost is astronomical. According to the Cost of War project, the total cost to date is over $460 billion — and a useful breakdown of that figure, including some mention of what it could have been used to fund instead, is available here.
Thirdly, the loss of life is unforgivable. 1,407 US military personnel have been killed in Afghanistan since “Operation Enduring Freedom” began, and 14,342 have been wounded. Up to 29,000 Afghan civilians have been killed as a result of U.S-led military actions, and hundreds of thousands wounded and displaced.
A fourth reason to end the war, which is generally less well known (or at least less thought about), is because it led to the creation of Guantánamo, where a small number of terror suspects are held along with Taliban foot soldiers and innocent men seized by mistake, but all of the 779 prisoners held throughout the prison’s history were deprived of their rights and designated as “enemy combatants” without rights, who could be abused with impunity.
171 of these men are still held, even though only 36 of them have been proposed for trials, and there is no sign of when, if ever, the rest will be released. An end to the war will bring to an end the US government’s claim that it can justify holding prisoners at Guantánamo forever because of the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress the week after the 9/11 attacks, which is used to justify the detention of prisoners seized in the “war on terror.” With the end of the war, and the end of the AUMF, the US government will have to explain how long the war in which the prisoners were seized will actually last.
A fifth reason to end the war is to close the US prison at Bagram airbase, and, as with Guantánamo, to ensure that, in future armed conflicts, the US government once more offers the protections of the Geneva Conventions to those seized in wartime. Instead, those in Bagram are still held arbitrarily, without even the compromised habeas corpus rights given to the Guantánamo prisoners by the Supreme Court (and since gutted by the D.C. Circuit Court). At Bagram, the prisoners have nothing but a periodic military review process that has nothing to do with the Geneva Conventions.
In launching the “Stop the Machine! Create a New World!” campaign, activist and author David Swanson wrote:
When other nations’ governments go off track, their people do something about it. In Tunisia and Egypt people have nonviolently claimed power in a way that has inspired Americans in Wisconsin and other states, as well as the people of Spain and the rest of the world.
Washington, D.C. is the weakest point in our democracy, without which state-level reform cannot succeed. Most Americans want our wars ended, our corporations and billionaires taxed, and our rights expanded rather than curtailed. We want our money invested in jobs and green energy, not a global military that can’t stop itself. Our government in Washington goes in the opposite direction, opposing popular will on these major issues, regardless of personality or party.
This will not be another rally and march on a Saturday, make home movies, pat ourselves on the back, and go home. We are coming to Washington to stay.
The organizers — Maria Allwine, Ellen Barfield, Catarina Correia, Ellen Davidson, Margaret Flowers, Tarak Kauff, Mark Mason, Devra Morice, Udi Pladott, Ward Reilly, Lisa Simeone, David Swanson, Dennis Trainor, Jr., the Rev. Dr. Bruce Wright and Kevin Zeese — also issued the following pledge, which has since been signed by many, or most of those turning up to protest:
I pledge that if any U.S. troops, contractors, or mercenaries remain in Afghanistan on Thursday, October 6, 2011, as that occupation goes into its 11th year, I will commit to being in Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., with others on that day or the days immediately following, for as long as I can, with the intention of making it our Tahrir Square, Cairo, our Madison, Wisconsin, where we will NONVIOLENTLY resist the corporate machine by occupying Freedom Plaza to demand that America’s resources be invested in human needs and environmental protection instead of war and exploitation. We can do this together. We will be the beginning.
And this is from their mission statement:
We call on people of conscience and courage — all who seek peace, economic justice, human rights and a healthy environment — to join together in Washington, D.C., beginning on Oct. 6, 2011, in nonviolent resistance similar to the Arab Spring and the Midwest awakening. […]
Forty-seven years ago, Mario Savio, an activist student at Berkeley, said, “There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious — makes you so sick at heart — that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.”
Those words have an even greater urgency today. We face ongoing wars and massive socio-economic and environmental destruction perpetrated by a corporate empire which is oppressing, occupying and exploiting the world. We are on a fast track to making the planet unlivable while the middle class and poor people of our country are undergoing the most wrenching and profound economic crisis in 80 years.
“Stop the Machine! Create a New World!” is a clarion call for all who are deeply concerned with injustice, militarism and environmental destruction to join in ending concentrated corporate power and taking direct control of a real participatory democracy. We will encourage a culture of resistance — using music, art, theater and direct nonviolent action — to take control of our country and our lives. It is about courageously resisting and stopping the corporate state from destroying not only our inherent rights and freedoms, but also our children’s chance to live, breathe clean air, drink pure water, grow edible natural food and live in peace.
Since June’s announcement, of course, another movement, “Occupy Wall Street,” has sprung up on a similar basis, recognizing that only a permanent occupation, rather than turning up for the day, patting ourselves on the back, and going home can bring about change. Although prompted primarily by opposition to the war, and its ruinous cost, the organizers of the Freedom Plaza occupation were also clearly motivated by the bigger picture — the revolutionary movements in the Middle East, the inspirational actions in Madison, Wisconsin in February and March, and the mass movements in Greece and Spain — which all fed into “Occupy Wall Street” and the hundreds of other occupations that are now taking place all over the United States.
With the additional focus on seeing “our corporations and billionaires taxed,” and “our money invested in jobs and green energy,” the aims of the Freedom Plaza occupation are, of course, dovetailing with those of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, which began its own mobilization in Washington D.C., “Occupy D.C.,” on Saturday, and which continues to draw new supporters.
The timing could hardly have been more fortuitous. As “Occupy Wall Street” continues to grow, finally attracting some serious mainstream attention, it seems as if a revolutionary call for change is gaining momentum in the US — driven not just by the long-term activists behind October2011.org, but also by the young people of the “Occupy” movement, educated but without work, who are ideally placed to take to the streets as permanent protestors, and not to leave until a solution is found.