Protestors in Washington D.C. Call for an End to the Afghan War on its 10th Anniversary, and the Transformation of American Politics


Stop the Machine! Create a New World!” and “Human Needs, Not Corporate Greed!” are the rallying cries of a movement,, that launched on June 6 this year, calling for the occupation, on October 6 (yesterday), of Freedom Plaza in Washington D.C. on an open-ended basis. The movement is calling for nothing less than the total transformation of American politics, but the immediate focus today is on the war in Afghanistan, which began exactly ten years ago.

Bringing the war to an end ought to be a priority for the American people on a number of fronts.

Firstly, the war is unwinnable. Ousting al-Qaeda from Afghanistan may have been a success, but the battle for hearts and minds was lost early on, through bombing raids that killed thousands of civilians, and the casual and imprecise violence that led to the imprisonment and abuse of hundreds of Afghan Taliban conscripts in Guantánamo and Bagram. To topple the Taliban, the US worked with brutal warlords, whose corruption, in many cases, had prompted the rise of the Taliban in the first place, and although the Taliban were ousted from power, the pointless diversion into Iraq was ruinous for the muddled and ill-conceived nation-building mission in Afghanistan.

Secondly, the cost is astronomical. According to the Cost of War project, the total cost to date is over $460 billion — and a useful breakdown of that figure, including some mention of what it could have been used to fund instead, is available here.

Thirdly, the loss of life is unforgivable. 1,407 US military personnel have been killed in Afghanistan since “Operation Enduring Freedom” began, and 14,342 have been wounded. Up to 29,000 Afghan civilians have been killed as a result of U.S-led military actions, and hundreds of thousands wounded and displaced.

A fourth reason to end the war, which is generally less well known (or at least less thought about), is because it led to the creation of Guantánamo, where a small number of terror suspects are held along with Taliban foot soldiers and innocent men seized by mistake, but all of the 779 prisoners held throughout the prison’s history were deprived of their rights and designated as “enemy combatants” without rights, who could be abused with impunity.

171 of these men are still held, even though only 36 of them have been proposed for trials, and there is no sign of when, if ever, the rest will be released. An end to the war will bring to an end the US government’s claim that it can justify holding prisoners at Guantánamo forever because of the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress the week after the 9/11 attacks, which is used to justify the detention of prisoners seized in the “war on terror.” With the end of the war, and the end of the AUMF, the US government will have to explain how long the war in which the prisoners were seized will actually last.

A fifth reason to end the war is to close the US prison at Bagram airbase, and, as with Guantánamo, to ensure that, in future armed conflicts, the US government once more offers the protections of the Geneva Conventions to those seized in wartime. Instead, those in Bagram are still held arbitrarily, without even the compromised habeas corpus rights given to the Guantánamo prisoners by the Supreme Court (and since gutted by the D.C. Circuit Court). At Bagram, the prisoners have nothing but a periodic military review process that has nothing to do with the Geneva Conventions.

In launching the “Stop the Machine! Create a New World!” campaign, activist and author David Swanson wrote:

When other nations’ governments go off track, their people do something about it. In Tunisia and Egypt people have nonviolently claimed power in a way that has inspired Americans in Wisconsin and other states, as well as the people of Spain and the rest of the world.

Washington, D.C. is the weakest point in our democracy, without which state-level reform cannot succeed. Most Americans want our wars ended, our corporations and billionaires taxed, and our rights expanded rather than curtailed. We want our money invested in jobs and green energy, not a global military that can’t stop itself. Our government in Washington goes in the opposite direction, opposing popular will on these major issues, regardless of personality or party.

This will not be another rally and march on a Saturday, make home movies, pat ourselves on the back, and go home. We are coming to Washington to stay.

The organizers — Maria Allwine, Ellen Barfield, Catarina Correia, Ellen Davidson, Margaret Flowers, Tarak Kauff, Mark Mason, Devra Morice, Udi Pladott, Ward Reilly, Lisa Simeone, David Swanson, Dennis Trainor, Jr., the Rev. Dr. Bruce Wright and Kevin Zeese — also issued the following pledge, which has since been signed by many, or most of those turning up to protest:

I pledge that if any U.S. troops, contractors, or mercenaries remain in Afghanistan on Thursday, October 6, 2011, as that occupation goes into its 11th year, I will commit to being in Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., with others on that day or the days immediately following, for as long as I can, with the intention of making it our Tahrir Square, Cairo, our Madison, Wisconsin, where we will NONVIOLENTLY resist the corporate machine by occupying Freedom Plaza to demand that America’s resources be invested in human needs and environmental protection instead of war and exploitation. We can do this together. We will be the beginning.

And this is from their mission statement:

We call on people of conscience and courage — all who seek peace, economic justice, human rights and a healthy environment — to join together in Washington, D.C., beginning on Oct. 6, 2011, in nonviolent resistance similar to the Arab Spring and the Midwest awakening. […]

Forty-seven years ago, Mario Savio, an activist student at Berkeley, said, “There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious — makes you so sick at heart — that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.”

Those words have an even greater urgency today. We face ongoing wars and massive socio-economic and environmental destruction perpetrated by a corporate empire which is oppressing, occupying and exploiting the world. We are on a fast track to making the planet unlivable while the middle class and poor people of our country are undergoing the most wrenching and profound economic crisis in 80 years.

“Stop the Machine! Create a New World!” is a clarion call for all who are deeply concerned with injustice, militarism and environmental destruction to join in ending concentrated corporate power and taking direct control of a real participatory democracy. We will encourage a culture of resistance — using music, art, theater and direct nonviolent action — to take control of our country and our lives. It is about courageously resisting and stopping the corporate state from destroying not only our inherent rights and freedoms, but also our children’s chance to live, breathe clean air, drink pure water, grow edible natural food and live in peace.

Since June’s announcement, of course, another movement, “Occupy Wall Street,” has sprung up on a similar basis, recognizing that only a permanent occupation, rather than turning up for the day, patting ourselves on the back, and going home can bring about change. Although prompted primarily by opposition to the war, and its ruinous cost, the organizers of the Freedom Plaza occupation were also clearly motivated by the bigger picture — the revolutionary movements in the Middle East, the inspirational actions in Madison, Wisconsin in February and March, and the mass movements in Greece and Spain — which all fed into “Occupy Wall Street” and the hundreds of other occupations that are now taking place all over the United States.

With the additional focus on seeing “our corporations and billionaires taxed,” and “our money invested in jobs and green energy,” the aims of the Freedom Plaza occupation are, of course, dovetailing with those of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, which began its own mobilization in Washington D.C., “Occupy D.C.,” on Saturday, and which continues to draw new supporters.

The timing could hardly have been more fortuitous. As “Occupy Wall Street” continues to grow, finally attracting some serious mainstream attention, it seems as if a revolutionary call for change is gaining momentum in the US — driven not just by the long-term activists behind, but also by the young people of the “Occupy” movement, educated but without work, who are ideally placed to take to the streets as permanent protestors, and not to leave until a solution is found.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

16 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Digging and sharing this, Andy. I just saw a map of the USA with a spot where each is. Impressive!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, it’s impressive, isn’t it? Here’s a map on Daily Kos:

    The timing fascinates me. This has been building for a while, obviously, inspired by Tunisia and Egypt, then Madison, Wisconsin, and Greece and Spain. But what no one could have quite foreseen, I don’t think, is how Occupy Wall Street has coincided with a new economic crisis. It could be a perfect storm — although I’m not feeling triumphalist about any of it. I have long-standing activist friends involved in the D.C. action, and no offense to them but it’s the young educated people without jobs, in their thousands and thousands, that particularly fascinate me, and their movement raises two questions for me:

    Why would they go home when they haven’t got jobs?
    Who is going to create jobs?

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I’m not at all triumphalistic. Given that the young people are mainly protesting about jobs, with remarks about war, poverty, and exploitation, I fear that these praiseworthy actions will be co-opted by means of largely empty promises (your 2nd comment?). Demands for work, sure. But without some well-formulated, more farreaching ideas, how far can this go? At any rate, it is a sign of mass discontent, that might yield concrete results. Keeping fingers crossed. Now I will see if I can post your Kos link.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi George,
    No, I had no intention of suggesting you were being triumphalistic — probably more of a comment on myself. I do like it when people show public dissent, because there’s so much to be upset about, but of course this particular movement is driven by some pretty deep and fundamental questions by people who feel thoroughly betrayed, and have every reason to be angry about it.
    As for where it goes from here — I don’t know, but I’m not sure I’ve ever felt that old certainties — or orthodoxies — were falling or looking so thoroughly discredited at the same time that people were massing in such large numbers to complain about it.
    Seismic societal changes happen rarely, but we may be at a critical time …

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I hope so, Andy. I’m sure my caution is due to remnants of outdated ideologies in my mind, namely some aspects of Marxism from 1968 till 1989. These don’t fit well with the protesters concerns, so I am too much out of touch with their feelings and aims.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Your caution is entirely understandable, George. As someone on the left, with a socialist heart, who’s never pinned my beliefs to any flag, it seem hugely important to me that these new movements come together without any preconceived baggage, not just because I think the current challenges need new eyes (which I do), but also because, to have a chance of coalescing into something genuinely successful, they need to draw in the apathetic or the politically alienated, and to do so in significant numbers.

    I remain hopeful that something big is happening, though, because our systems have failed, and can no longer create growth, and are now withering and failing more and more of our populations. It’s been a year since the students (and lecturers) first took to the streets here in the UK, and if I look at everything that’s happened since, globally, it’s quite astonishing. The pillars of the temples are shaking, and the masonry is falling …

  7. Mark Erickson says...

    I was at OccupyMN mid afternoon. Good scene. We’ll see what happens. Youth is key. I’ve got the family to tend to this weekend. What is often forgotten about the 60s protest movements is the huge cohort of baby boomers to draw from. Things would have been the different without so many young people. The hormones (not just libido) alone make a huge difference. Anyway.

    I had a homemade sign on the back of a Say No to the Iraq War lawn sign. Yup. Nine years old. CHA is tied to Oct2011. I don’t see them doing much without merging with the Occupy movement. That is completely serendipitous. Perfect storm? I don’t think so (hate the phrase actually). All for now.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Mark. “Youth is key. ” Yes, indeed.
    So we’ll see. Wondering if Britain will pick up on the ripples. We have an antiwar rally tomorrow in Trafalgar Square and a Block the Bridge” occupation on Sunday, calling for the Tories’ health privatization bill to be scrapped:

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    PS Actually, there’s only one remnant, Statism. I’m a utopian, who would like to see a world with some form of noncapitalist libertarian socialism: a mix of some highly direct democratic form of rotating government to handle necessary provisions, with a maximum of personal freedom.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    then we agree. All is crumbling and might destroy us yet, and there’s no need for any preconceived ideological baggage. All my utopianism needs is a hatred of the profit motive, profit, hence money (except as tokens for exchange), a consequent rejection of any form of capitalism, and its replacement by some mix of stateless security of necessities and leisure, with personal freedom.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I’m with you, George: “a mix of some highly direct democratic form of rotating government to handle necessary provisions, with a maximum of personal freedom.”
    I would take part in that — like jury service. With the rare exception, I’ve had it with politicians whose only “qualifications” are their egos, their greed, their mediocrity and their ability to schmooze large numbers of people on their doorsteps. It’s not a recipe for success. We now have a stunningly unqualified group of idiots pretending to run the country, with no actual skills or vision, no experience in any necessary fields, just juggernauts of tired and cruel ideology.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Aaron Henry wrote:

    Interesting and informative as always, Andy.

    Thank you again for your good work.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, Aaron. Thanks for the supportive words.

  14. connie nash says...

    See his blogsite:

    We all need this kind of inspiration no matter our cause – esp. us human rights folk!

    In case a DC’r might come here in time – Here’s someone who’s spoken out for both an end to all hate and killing and FOR forgiveness – he even tried to stop the execution of his would be killer, a white supremacist. If you are able go here this incredible person and speaker -Rais Bhuiyan is to speak in Washington DC USA beginning October 27th…Just go to The Search for Common Ground website and find BOTH events(one is S 4 Common Ground’s the annual peacemaker award night – which has awarded the likes of Desmond Tutu as well! The other is a LONG noon 11-2:30 appearance at The American University (see The University Calendar)

  15. As Deficit Super Committee Fails, “Occupy” Activists in Washington, DC Provide Inspiring Plan for US Economy + The 99%’s Deficit Proposal « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] and as a result, I was delighted, last week, to be notified by the activist Kevin Zeese, part of the movement in Washington, DC that has renamed itself Occupy Washington, DC, that a group of activists and […]

  16. After Ten Years in US Custody, British Resident Shaker Aamer “Is Gradually Dying in Guantánamo,” Says Clive Stafford Smith | Save Shaker Campaign says...

    […] 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in September was followed, in October, by the 10th anniversary of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, and, as the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo approaches, on January 11, 2012, we […]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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