It was seven years ago that I found myself running the wrong way up Sixth Avenue with my high school sweetheart. Through the rain we ran, with peace on our lips. New York’s finest were running after us, as they had a way of doing with pesky antiwar protesters.
The following night, hundreds of Tomahawk cruise missiles and “smart bombs” would rain down from the skies onto the cities of Iraq.
The rain would not let up for years to come, carrying hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians to their deaths and flooding the land with four million refugees. Over 4,300 young men and women no older than ourselves would enter the cradle of civilization to return in flag-draped coffins.
On March 5, 2003, we’d gone on strike. We had walked out of our schools and gathered by the tens of thousands in a global day of student protest to demand “Books, Not Bombs,” and to say, in a word, “fuhgedaboudit” to the imminent invasion.
We had other things to say, too, published in a “Declaration of Peace,” which I co-authored at the time with other young activists from New York Youth Bloc.
We – as the generation being called to fight the war – must continue to make ourselves heard.
We demand of our country a realignment of values and policies. Our demands are heard in the rallying cry of the student strikers, the cry of “Books Not Bombs.” Every day, the young people of New York live the effects of the “Bombs Not Books” policy.
We know that for every million dollars of our families’ money spent on a missile, another public school is allowed to crumble. While there are never enough books or desks or teachers, there are always enough recruiters. We know that there’s affirmative action for young people of color and of lower income in admission into the world’s top institutions of killing and dying …
We know that the Pentagon has a No Child Left Alive Act prepared for Iraq – a plan to launch more than 300 missiles a day at a population of which more than half are our age or younger. We, the people of New York, also know what the horrors of war look like, sound like, smell like. Today, we see the possibility of a whole country resembling the view down Greenwich Street that September morning.
We know that this invasion, far from being a just war, is a “just us” war for the elite of this country … This war will only make us less safe. We know that the tyranny of Saddam Hussein will not be replaced with democratic rule and the liberation of a people, but with military occupation and the tyranny of our government’s free-market fundamentalism.
We know our history. But we envision a very different future. We know that empire can’t coexist with democracy. And we say that those who must bear the consequences of the decision should be the ones making the decision. We’ve made our decision. We declare peace on Iraq.
The wise old men in the White House, of course, knew better than we. Who the hell were we to talk back when we weren’t being talked to?
We were young. We were naive. And we were right. But there is no vindication in that. No self-righteousness can be sown of such sorrows as these.
Unless, that is, you’re the mainstream media – say, Newsweek, which on the cover of a recent issue proclaimed, “Victory at Last.”
Victory at last?
Mission accomplished, after all?
Seven years later, $973 billion poorer, and a history far bloodier than we will ever know, and we’re still at it. It was out of Iraq (or not) – and into Afghanistan. And Pakistan. And Latin America. And places around the world the names of which shall not be spoken in public.
Seven years ago, we fought the war – and the war won.
Will we let it win again?