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IVAW and VVAW Chicago Mobilize Against Sanctions and War on Iran

By Robert Clack

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On February 1, a snowy Chicago day, over 60 peace activists hit the streets to protest further sanctions and the threat of war against Iran. The No War or Sanctions on Iran coalition was an ad hoc effort convened by IVAW and VVAW Chicago against the threat of further sanctions and war mongering by the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC) and Senators pushing bipartisan Senate Bill S. 1881. The February 1 action was a follow-up to a statewide call-in day to Illinois Senator Mark Kirk and a New Year's Eve action against the proposed sanctions.

Chicago IVAW members.

As the rally began, activists heard from long-time anti-war activist Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence and Andy Thayer of the Gay Liberation Network. There were also speakers from the Anti-War Committee Chicago and the Civilian Soldier Alliance. The public was extremely receptive and supportive to the crowd with passers-by giving their verbal support and cheers to protesters. After seeing anti-war veterans in the crowd a passerby bought coffee and donuts for the group. Another passerby gave IVAW members a bottle of wine and thanked the members for their service.

The march proceeded to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial where Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam veterans gave statements against the dangerous sanctions and the need for our government to create a long-lasting peace with Iran. "We have had sanctions on other countries before," said Iraq veteran and IVAW member Zach LaPorte. "Sanctions are economic war and are often the first step towards fighting a war. War (and sanctions) affect civilians the most, especially women and children."

At the solemn memorial, Vietnam veteran and Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) member Barry Romo, spoke on the human cost of war. "As you look at the Wall of the names of hundreds who died, think of the names that won't be there. People who died of Agent Orange, people who killed themselves with drugs, people who drank their lives away."

By early February, support for the bill began to unravel. This was in part due to the efforts of dozens of groups, organizing call-in days, lobbying congress, and protesting. A good example was the National Iranian American Council's open letter signed by 72 organizations condemning the sanctions bill. "It speaks to the type of power veterans have," said LaPorte. "We got the Senators to back down. It's cool to see that type of direct action work and it makes me more confident for the future."

The defeat of AIPAC and the warmongers in the Senate was a significant victory for the peace movement. Additionally, AIPAC's defeat is a welcome sign of the lobby's waning power with Congress. The peace movement served as a major counterweight to AIPAC's power and this could bode well in successfully opposing future conflicts.

Despite IVAW and VVAW's successful organizing on this issue, it was a bitter pill to swallow when Republicans in the Senate attempted to amend Sen. Bernie Sanders' Omnibus Veterans Bill with Iran Sanctions. The Republican effort to amend the legislation failed, along with the latest effort to derail peace talks with Iran. Outrageously, Senate Republicans then directly voted down veterans benefits under the pretext of decreasing spending.

The dissonance of much of the country's political leadership must be made accountable. The blatant disregard for veterans and GI's welfare reveals how mean-spirited and cynical our political establishment has become. It's widely known that veterans, including recent Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, suffer disproportionately from suicide, homelessness, unemployment and other problems.

In regards to Iran sanctions, the same political leadership that supported legislation that put the country at risk for war, used veterans and their benefits as a political ploy to increase sanctions. It's important to remember this series of events and to reject these Senators' claims of supporting veterans and their accompanying empty rhetoric. Anti-war veterans can be a tremendous force in drawing out these contradictions and calling out the leadership of a figure like Senator Mark Kirk. When the threat of conflict occurs, it's important that the peace movement make itself heard and demands that our government prioritizes caring for its citizens, and that our political leaders work towards creating greater peace and stability in the world.

Robert Clack is an anti-war activist and community organizer in Chicago, Illinois.

 2. VVAW Visits Archives at the Wisconsin Historical Society >>