March marks the third anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, a war that bears troubling similarities to the Vietnam War. In the buildup to the war, peace activists all over the world tried to persuade the Bush administration not to attack Iraq. Rochester's Doug Noble was one of them. Now, Noble is helping coordinate a coalition of local activist groups to educate the public about the war and about how to pressure officials to end it and pull US soldiers out of Iraq.
Being an advocate for peace is less about being an activist and more about the frustrations of being a "concerned global citizen," says Noble. He is upset, he says, with those in the Bush administration who attempt to redefine the meaning of patriotism.
"I am a patriotic American," he says. "I see myself as very patriotic. But I am frightened by what I see my country doing, because we are hurting so many innocent people --- and for what?"
About 20 different community, student, and religious groups are speaking out against the US war and occupation in Iraq. They include Peace Action & Education (a task force of Metro Justice), Campus Action Network, Military Families Speak Out, RITAntiwar, Genesee Valley Citizens for Peace, Rush-Henrietta Students Against War, Rochester Friends Meeting (Quakers), Christian Peacemaker Teams, and the New Directions for Peace Task Force of the Unitarian Church.
Noble and others founded RAW --- Rochester Against War --- when they realized there was a need to coordinate the diverse groups' efforts. Collectively, they have held vigils, coordinated a series of speaking engagements, worked with public-school administrators on the issue of military recruiters' access to student records, and urged Congressional leaders to oppose the war.
Coming up next: another in the "Reality of War" speakers series, which will bring writer and former Army Ranger Stan Goff and war resister Lee Zaslofsky to Rochester on Wednesday, February 22. The event will be held at 7 p.m. at the First Universalist Church, 150 South Clinton Avenue.
Activist Bill McCoy, who recalls the Rochester-area protests against the Vietnam War, says he believes the public is further along in turning against the Iraq War than they were at this stage of the Vietnam War. But their opposition is less visible. McCoy recalls thousands of protestors marching down Main Street in an anti-Vietnam War event that led to a confrontation with police.
One reason for the difference, he speculates, is that most Americans aren't seeing the human toll. During the Vietnam conflict, the media brought the tragedy of war into American living rooms every day. "You saw images of children running down dirt roads screaming from the burns," he notes. "Americans are not really seeing this war. They're not even seeing the US soldiers' caskets being unloaded. Most of the burden is on the soldiers and military families."
The Bush administration, says Doug Noble, has used public relations effectively to sell the war and tell Americans that the best thing they can do is go on about their business as if nothing is wrong. "And so," he says, "we do."
Noble, who has a doctorate in education, co-founded the Cobblestone School, the Peace Action and Education Task Force of Metro Justice, and the Coalition for Common Sense in Education. And he wrote The Classroom Arsenal, a book which describes the history of military technology in the classroom.
In a recent interview, he shared his views on the Rochester anti-war movement and the development of RAW. Following are edited excerpts of that conversation.
Why do so many people consider anti-war activists to be socialist-fringe radicals, and patriots are often seen as conservatives?
A lot of these words like liberal or activist that were used in the 60's have been redefined with a negative meaning, while patriotism has been cast as loyalty to the [Republican] party. But being an activist, particularly as it relates to the anti-war movement, is not about party affiliations. I was out there when Hilary Clinton was voting in favor of the war, holding a sign that read "SHAME." Few Democrats, even the most liberal among them, have come out publicly against this war. And we've lobbied all the local Democrats to let them know that they must change this course we're on. There's no other choice.
Obviously, RAW's goal is to stop the war, but what are your strategies?
About 45 people met a year ago representing all of these various local groups. We realized that we not only had to communicate with one another about what we were doing, but we also had to focus our efforts on three main types of action. First, we had to draw attention to discrimination and racist actions against Muslims, letting people know that this can't be tolerated. Second, we had to organize the military community, soldiers and their families, veterans and resisters, on the issues of the Iraq War and how to speak out to stop it. And third, we had to campaign against military recruitment in schools and colleges.
We realized that we can lobby and lobby and lobby politicians here and in Washington --- and we have been pretty successful at getting them to listen to us. But they are not going to do anything, they're not going to take steps to stop this war, until the public is so outraged that the politicians feel they have no other choice but to stop it.
What have you accomplished so far?
There have been many rallies and vigils. We have had many military families and veterans come to speak to the community. But I think some of the best work we've done has been in the public schools. We met with many of the public-school administrators and explained to them what the language in the No Child Left Behind Act means, and how it allowed the military direct access to student information for purposes of recruitment. Most of the administrators didn't even know about it and, of course, most parents had no idea this was happening.
We were very active with the Rochester School Board at turning the policy around to refuse to give student information to the Department of Defense.
And now when military recruiters are on a campus, the administrators notify us, and we set up tables that students can access. We want them to know that when you sign up, you are signing a contract that says pretty clearly: anything in that contract can be changed at any time. Most of these kids have no idea about what they are signing.
Where is the Rochester Anti-war movement now?
Well, this is a question that we have been asking ourselves lately. Before the war started, we had a thousand people in front of the Federal Building protesting. Since the war started, we've had several hundred people come out to a rally. We've made trips down to New York City, and we have all kinds of activities going on. But I will go out to, let's say, a vigil, and I'll see people I know. There will be some new faces, but the American public is so against this war, there should be 10,000 people out there. Where are they? That's what we've been asking ourselves. What can we do better, given the resources we have? The other day I read that the Bush administration has spent $1.3 billion on public relations in this war.
But we have been gaining momentum. When I went to the first rally, it was mostly a bunch of us old fogies. Now it is a full spectrum of all kinds of people. We have high-school students, college students, professionals, religious people, working people, military families --- it's a wide range of people, and best of all, they're getting younger. I was at an event the other day, and this car swings by and out jumps this young kid saying, "I have to get involved." That's what this movement is about.
Information about RAW, regional anti-war activities, and upcoming events is available at www.rochesteragainstwar.org or (585) 442-3383.