Cross-posted from Aslan Media:
(From “Letters to Occupy America”)
WASHINGTON, D.C.- What started out months ago as a rally only to protest the war in Afghanistan on the eve of its 10th anniversary, has now meshed with the national Occupy Wall Street movement. This week in Washington DC’s Freedom Plaza, just steps from the White House, people from both movements have joined together to form the “Stop The Machine! Create A New World!“ rally which brought together the varied grievances of many into a single demonstration.
Rather than feeling marginalized, protesters seemed energized by the cooperation of both groups. Instead of highlighting only one issue, they were able to show the general discontent that people are feeling right now toward the state of affairs in the United States. The start of the protest was to coincide not only with the anniversary of the Afghanistan war but also with the beginning of the 2012 Federal Austerity Budget, which people worry will cut funding for badly needed social programs while increasing military spending.
Carrie Stoner walked 9 days and 200 miles to DC from her home in Clarksburg, West Virginia. Stoner said that what motivated her journey was the diversity of the rally. “I could go attend a rally for women’s rights, which matters to me. I could go to a rally to protest war, which matters to me. I could go to a rally to protest Wall Street, which matter to me. And I could be at a rally to support gay marriage, which matters to me,” Stoner told Aslan Media. “But here we can say it all at once.”
“Carrie is the reason I’m here,” said Yvonne Scott. Scott, who drove to DC from Albuquerque, New Mexico, said “I saw her journey on Facebook and I said, ‘If she can walk 200 miles, I can put my sorry ass in a car and drive to D.C.’”
Throughout the day, Freedom Plaza turned into a sounding board for issues. Many people at the rally were there to raise awareness about environmental, LGBT and education issues. Protesters seemed to thrive in the milieu of Freedom Plaza, using this time and place to discuss everything from hydraulic fracturing to religious freedom.
But the anti-war sentiment was strongest. The majority of people carried anti-war signs, or stood by memorials that they had built. Some were there because of family members who had been killed in the wars in the Middle East, while others were there to demand the safe return of friends and family still fighting. Many were there simply to voice their opposition to violence as a solution.
The memorials to fighting and fallen soldiers surrounded Freedom Plaza. One included sculptures of U.S. fighter jets. Another displayed the shoes of civilians and soldiers lost to the wars. Veterans for Peace were also out in full force, and just like most people at the rally, many of their messages touched on more than just wars.
Rooj Alwazir with Yemani Youth Abroad for Change is a member of the Occupy DC fundraising committee. She, along with dozens of other protesters, has been sleeping on sidewalks and in McPherson Square in downtown Washington, DC and plans on occupying the area for the long hall. “This is my new home,” Alwazir said. “We are not going to leave. We are not going to be done until we get what we want.”
For Matthew Cappiello of Muslims for Peace, Justice and Progress, the target audience is not only the U.S. government but also the U.S. Muslim community. Cappiello hopes that Occupy DC, in combination with the Arab Spring and the April 6 youth movement in Egypt, can inspire American Muslims to get active in U.S. foreign policy. “It’s not that I don’t think there is already good intention,” said Cappiello. “But there needs to be more ambition in the American Muslim population” to affect U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa. Cappiello thinks that many American Muslims and MENA ex-patriots living in the U.S. have become disengaged and disenchanted with U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa because it usually doesn’t work out or because the U.S. foreign aid ends up in the wrong hands. But he hopes that these rallies can revitalize the American Muslim community. “They do have the ability to impact foreign policy,” Cappiello said.
Alwazir says that the Arab Spring is what inspired her activism. “I never felt connected until the Arab Spring,” said Alwazir. But after the Arab Spring she says she felt a responsibility. “I had the advantage of not only knowing a lot about Yemen but having people I know there.” Alwazir said that she thinks the entire OccupyDC movement was inspired by the Arab Spring. “A lot of people watched what happened in Egypt especially and felt inspired that this non-violent, leaderless movement can really work.”