61 Arrested, Hundreds Protest Obama's War in Afghanistan

By Kevin Gosztola

I spoke with Elaine Brower, an organizer with the World Can't Wait, about yesterday's protest outside the White House which ended in a massive arrest of 82 people including well-known peace advocates David Swanson and Cindy Sheehan.

As she explained it, people began to show up to McPherson Square at 9:15 am. They put on orange jumpsuits and held up big signs of Gonzales, Cheney, and Bush. The press came over to talk to them and the crowd began to grow.

Activists lined up around a fountain in the square to give the press a photo opportunity.

At 10:35 am ET, Brower left with a group that headed over to the White House so they could be present when Obama held his press conference on health care at 11:15 am ET.

They stood right outside the White House gate (and forced the White House press corps to find another way to get into a press briefing).

The group chanted "Healthcare Not Warfare" and other slogans.

The police wound up chasing them off the sidewalk.

The press were interested in the 75 or more protesters who had gathered outside the gate. They were turning and looking to hear who was shouting "Bring the Troops Home", "Close Gitmo", etc.

As noon approached, the police became more and more intrusive. David Swanson was shouting about First Amendment rights and freedom of speech on a bullhorn as the crowd grew to somewhere between 200 and 300 people.

Brower sat in stress positions. She sat in a cage giving the press another great photo opportunity.

Different affinity groups were now set up outside the White House. Veterans for Peace had coffins. World Can't Wait setup a museum that involved a waterboarding demonstration and signs detailing walling, stress positions, etc through graphic photos.

Members of Witness Against Torture chained themselves to the fence outside the White House.

The press took pictures and video and interviewed many of the protesters about torture.

The group of protesters began to participate in a reading of the names of those who died in Afghanistan. They chanted after a few names were read, "Mourn the dead. Heal the wounded. End the war," and then the names would continue to be read. They would chant again.

This went on for 45 minutes before the police on horses broke up the demonstration and pushed the crowd in the street behind a perimeter created with caution tape.

Those inside the caution tape were warned a few times and then arrested. A big air-conditioned bus showed up to cart the protesters off to Anacostia. They were processed immediately and then told they would have to come back in 15 days.

Brower noted a shift in protocol. Instead of going through the entire process of getting re-fingerprinted, running protesters' records, etc, the police chose to issue citations and force out-of-towners to come back.

The protest was overwhelmingly peaceful. I asked Brower what she thought about the fact that someone from the press corps mentioned the protest to Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. I mentioned how the Obama Administration issued a statement saying "leaving Afghanistan is not an option."

Brower said that Gibbs and Obama knew we were there (despite what Gibbs said to the press corps). She does not think they will listen to protest or consider what they have to say. But, people should understand that the people who voted him into office are now standing at his door yelling at him to shift policy.

She added his "base is slipping" and he's going to have to answer to people who wonder why he is abandoning his base.

This was the first protest ever done with a prime focus on Afghanistan.

As indicated in my original entry, the people are trying to push Obama to do what needs to be done. He is ignoring people, pretending people are not there protesting, going about business as usual and simply talking to generals, asking Congress to help with Afghanistan, etc.

How do you confront the reality that Americans will not be able to make Obama do it like they thought they would do when they voted him in office? How do you deal with the idea that he won't deliver hope and change when it comes to Afghanistan?

The answer may be depressing but Americans cannot become further demoralized. Americans must become energized and go out and organize protests in community that share with other Americans the reality of the war in Afghanistan.

For more, read this press release from Voters for Peace and read David Swanson's article, "We Were Arrested for Speaking."


Main Projects Organizers Kevin Gosztola 61 Arrested, Hundreds Protest Obama's War in Afghanistan


World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.