Date for action: Hit the ’emergency stop’ button on the Afghanistan war

Here’s your invitation to hit the ’emergency stop’ button on the war in Afghanistan!

In the week before Easter 2010 the Bonhoeffer Peace Collective went to the Swan Island Military base to press the emergency stop button on the war in Afghanistan. They face Geelong Magistrates Court on Wednesday June 16th and would love you to join them in a celebration of active, vibrant resistance to war on that day.

We will meet at Johnstone Park (Railway Terrace, opposite Geelong Magistrates court) at 9am and then process to the court.  Please bring your own lunch.

After court the Bonhoeffer Peace Collective will invite you to join them in returning to the gates of Swan Island, at Queenscliff. Swan Island is a training base for Australia’s elite SAS soldiers, who are playing the most active combat role for Australia in Afghanistan. We will meet at 2pm at the park opposite Bridge St in Queenscliff before processing together to the gate of the island.  There you will be given the opportunity to refuse continued warmaking on the people of Afghanistan by stepping onto the prohibited land (thereby risking arrest), or to participate in a peaceful, nonarrestable demonstration at the gate.

We will hold a briefing/information/nonviolence session for those who wish to participate in either arrestable or nonarrestable actions on Saturday June 5th from 1-4pm at the Den, 116 Little Bourke St Melbourne.  Please let us know if you will be at this session, or if you’d like to be but cannot make it that day.

So this is an invitation for you to consider being involved in these acts of nonviolent resistance to war.  If you could indicate a) your interest in being involved (either by emailing Simon at smoyle[at]gmail.com or RSVPing to the event) and b) whether you would like some preparatory briefing as soon as possible, that will help us plan logistics, and set up communication and support.  And of course please pass this on to anyone else you know who might be interested.

With thanks for all you do to make this world a more compassionate place,

Simon Moyle on behalf of Jacob Bolton, Jessica Morrison, Simon Reeves and the rest of the Bonhoeffer Peace Collective.

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8 years too long – end the war in Afghanistan! Melbourne reportback

07102009(001)On Wednesday 7th and Thursday 8th October, the two days that represented the 8th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan (it was the 7th in Afghanistan and the early hours of the 8th here in Australia), a group of concerned people gathered at Flinders St Station in Melbourne to remember, mourn and be inspired towards further action against the war.  We held a striking banner which read ‘End the Afghanistan War’ and maintained a presence for 10 hours each day, from 8am until 6pm.  At least 25 people joined us throughout the two days, including a war veteran from Stand Fast and the head of the Victorian Council of Churches Theo Mackay.

We began by reading out loud the names of some of those who had been killed in the course of this conflict, Afghani civilians, as well as US and Australian soldiers.  We handed out flyers with 8 reasons to end the war, as well as promotional material for the antiwar rally on Saturday (12pm City Square).  There was a petition people were encouraged to sign to end the war.  We also wrote the names of those on both sides who had been killed in the letters on the banner.

Perhaps the most significant part for me was the sense of vigilling (watching/ vigilance) at a place where around 10-15,000 Melbournians pass every day (a prime piece of real estate for advertising!).  Both people’s reactions or lack of reactions to our banner message were a good indication of the Australian public’s general disengagement with the war.  Many of those we talked with, whether they were supportive of us or not, had a very shallow understanding of what was happening over there or why we might be involved.  I had only one conversation in the whole 20 hours we were there with someone who confidently had a grasp on what was happening.  I don’t say these things pessimistically or despairingly, but in order to give a realistic appraisal of where we are at the moment, so we can better define the tasks ahead of us.07102009(007)

Some significant conversations:

·    An Afghani guy who had his throat slashed from ear to ear by the Taliban.  He had been here for two days and couldn’t talk due to his injuries, but the Air Force officer he was with who had helped him escape the country was adamant that the war be escalated to kill all of the Taliban.
·    A woman who despaired of social justice but when I mentioned I was a Baptist Minister asked the usual question (“do you know Tim Costello?”) and when I said I did, her response was “Well, thank God that the Baptists are doing something for the world instead of just preaching and getting fat!”
·    A long and constructive conversation with a foreign policy student where we managed to work out we agreed on everything except the efficacy of violence in creating stability.  It was the most helpful conversation I had because he understood the complexities and we got through a number of layers of assumptions to our real differences quickly, effectively and respectfully.

On Thursda08102009(019)y afternoon we walked the 1km down the road to Victoria Barracks, historically the most significant symbol of militarism in Melbourne as it was the site of much of Australian military strategy in WW2 (it also happened to be my grandfather’s workplace for 35 years, as a career soldier).  Three friends (Jacob Grech, Liz Turner and James Brennan) whitewashed the bluestone wall at the entrance to symbolise the whitewashing of the AfPak war.  They wrote “White wash,” “troops out” and “8 years is too long” several times across the bluestone wall before police arrived 20 minutes later.  Looking bemused, they determined the whitewash would come off and let them go without charge or arrest after taking their names (I think the police even told Vic Barracks to wash it off!).  The rest of us stood with the banner for the few media who gathered to record the whitewashing action.  All three did a great job of speaking to the media about why they were doing it.

To me it worked really well having the balance between the long presence of the vigil and the short but edgier direct action of the whitewash.  Raising tension seems to be important, but so does having a legitimate, regular, visible presence.

Suggestions for improvement:

·    I think we could have made more effort to connect with the Afghani community.
·    Reading the names of the dead in that space didn’t work very well.  Or it worked well for us, but it made engaging with people difficult.
·    Having interactive elements worked really well – people came and signed the banner, and the petition, and even handing out flyers gave us direct engagement.  It’s a busy space but very dynamic with thousands of people seeing the message every day.
·    Having a visible, clear, antiwar presence was really important on an issue that is mostly “out of sight, out of mind.”  I think we need to do this more often in a way that we can sustain going forward.
·    Having suggestions for how people can get involved is difficult.  But enough people asked to think harder about it in future.
·    There is such a lack of tension that I think part of going forward should be about building a movement that can escalate the tension by regular, sustained direct actions.

I want to thank all of those who participated in the vigil and whitewashing action, and encourage us to make this a new beginning which will spur us forward to deeper anti-war engagement.

More photos here.

Time for a surge…in the peace movement

Today marks eight years of the war in Afghanistan.  As Rudd and Obama consider yet another troop surge, for most Australians this milestone represents just another statistic, another number to skip over in the morning papers.  For others of us it represents a national disgrace, and high time for a surge in active opposition to the war.

Even as we all collectively reeled in shock from the events of September 11th 2001, there was a sense that this act of horrendous violence would see more acts of horrendous violence perpetuated in response.  What none of us could have realised, despite George W. Bush’s declaration of this as a “war without end”, is that we would still be mired in Afghanistan eight years later, with no end in sight.

Let’s face it; the war has not gone well.  The Taliban is continually regaining control of parts of the country. The US-backed parliament is mired in corruption.  Life expectancy in Afghanistan sits at just 44 years and more than half of children under five are malnourished. According to UNICEF only 22 percent of the population has access to clean drinking water. Civilian deaths are an everyday occurrence; according to the latest UN reports, around 400 civilians died in Afghanistan from January to August of this year due to US/NATO air strikes. There have been 1425 Coalition deaths.  Even General McChrystal acknowledges we are losing this war.

So it’s not surprising that despite its branding as “the good war” (compared to Iraq), support amongst Australians is dwindling.  Yet political disengagement is at an all time high, even – or perhaps especially – amongst those who want the war ended.  When governments continue to wage wars despite massive public opposition, as happened with the recent Iraq war, there are two options for the opposition: go harder or go home.  Unfortunately most people did the latter instead of the former.

What is needed is an active, disciplined, determined effort by ordinary Australians to end the war.  As long-time antiwar activist Ciaron O’Reilly often says if just 1% of those who marched against the Iraq war in 2003 had gone into nonviolent civil disobedience and the other 99% had supported them, we would have formed a dynamic and formidable opposition to it.  Instead, we washed our hands of the whole mess and went back to watching reality tv.

“If this task of building a peaceful world is the most important task of our time, it is also the most difficult,” wrote Trappist monk Thomas Merton. “It will, in fact, require far more discipline, more sacrifice, more planning, more thought, more co-operation and more heroism than war ever demanded.”

Of course, the hawks would dismiss such talk with the simplistic rhetoric, “if you’re against the war, you’re against the troops” or “opposing the war is unpatriotic”.  Yet as war veterans groups like Iraq Veterans Against the War, Courage to Resist, and Australia’s own Stand Fast are demonstrating, supporting the troops and being patriotic usually means ending the war.

I’m not suggesting simply abandoning Afghanistan to a mess of our own making.  We must commit ourselves to rebuilding the country, but with civilian reconstruction teams, not our military.

We cannot afford to leave this up to our politicians, who believe that changing course means admitting failure, nor can we abdicate responsibility to them for what happens in Afghanistan.  Our silence gives consent, and that consent must be actively withdrawn.  So today, on the eighth anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, I’m calling for a surge to end this war – but a surge in the peace movement, not in troop numbers.  Ordinary people, military and civilian, must act now.

Get out on the streets.  Make a noise.  Organise or sign a petition. Write to your MP.  Hold stalls, vigils, marches. Take nonviolent civil disobedience.

It takes courage to wage wars.  Sometimes it takes more courage to be part of ending them.