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Peace Activists Refuse to Retreat Because of Iraqi War
By: Artelia C. Covington
Originally posted 3/24/2003

WASHINGTON (NNPA)—Even though the majority of Americans support President George Bush’s invasion of Iraq, peace activists reject claims that they are unpatriotic and vow to continue speaking out, no mater how unpopular it becomes.

“If you are for peace, you speak for peace no matter what,” says Rev. M. William Howard Jr., pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, N.J., and a member of the Jesse Jackson delegation that obtained the release of Navy Lt. Robert Goodman from Syria. “Some say when one speaks for peace as the troops are deployed shows that you have no regard for their lives. I think that is completely crazy. I feel especially inspired to speak out even more strongly against the war.”

Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), says the war is about more than “shock and awe” bombing raids or capturing the capital of Iraq.

“America has been the nation that every nation has looked to for leadership,” he explains. “And now we’re attacking a nation that hasn’t done anything to us. I am by no means condoning Saddam Hussein at all. Many years ago, we propped him up and now we have to clean him up. We’re reaping the seeds that we sowed long ago. That does not make me an unpatriotic American because I am questioning the policy of our nation as it relates to engaging in war.”

Representative John Lewis (D-Ga.), like many African-Americans, struggles to strike the right balance between anti-war activism and supporting the soldiers who are called on to fight the war.

“I am sorry, very sorry, that we have arrived at this point, Lewis says in a statement. “After [the war began], I think the world is a much more dangerous place for all mankind. It is troublesome to me that we have launched a preemptive strike. I believe it sets a bad precedent to invade a country without the threat of an immediate attack against the United States.”

Lewis made it clear that he’s against the policies that took us into Iraq, not the people who arrived on the orders of President Bush.

“This war goes against what we believe in as a democratic nation,” Lewis says. “Americans are a peace-loving people. We abhor war and violence. But since the conflict has commenced, I will support and continue to support our young men and young women in the military.”

Polls conducted before the United States and its allies stormed into Iraq show that support for the war is much lower among African-Americans than among Whites.

A poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 44 percent of African-Americans supported the use of military force in Iraq, compared to 73 percent of White Americans. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 10 percent.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, with a margin of error of only 3.2 percent, reported that only 23 percent of Blacks strongly supported the war, compared to 62 percent of White Americans.

“I think the African-American community opposes it [the war] more than any other community because our people are being used for fodder,” says James Tate, executive director of the National Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression.

Bill Fletcher Jr., president of TransAfrica Forum, accuses President Bush of manipulating public opinion.
“I think the Bush administration has chumped us,” he says. “They’ve channeled all that fear from 9-11 into Saddam Hussein. It’s easier to take down a country, but it’s not easy to go after a terrorist group. It [the administration] has basically taken all of our fears and personalized them into Saddam Hussein.”

Rev. Anthony of Detroit feels that strategy can backfire. “The question has to be answered as to what do we do with those Iraqi boys and girls who will look at us not as a liberator, but as a perpetuator,” he says. “We can kill Hussein and his inner circle, but I’m really concerned about the much larger circle.

“What do we say when Israel hits Pakistan, or when North Korea hits South Korea? We have lost some of our peacemaking abilities and regardless of what people say, you have got to question the leaders of America.”
Rev. Al Sampson, pastor of Fenwood United Methodist Church in Chicago, is a former top aide to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and he was with King when he challenged the United States on its involvement in the Vietnam War.

Sampson, like Dr. King, realizes that Blacks cannot carry the whole load.
“A lot of demonstrations around the world involve young and old from the White community. They are standing up to their governments all over the world. That is a great signal—when White people stand up against their own government.”

Fletcher says anti-war activists will not be bullied into supporting the actions of George Bush. “I don’t owe any allegiance to anyone in this administration,” he says. “I’m obligated to speak up—that’s patriotism.”

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