BANGOR, Maine — More than six years ago, when U.S. leaders were debating whether to wage war in Iraq, peace activists in Maine and across the country put their grass-roots experience to use.
Across the state, some marched to Augusta in protest. Some went all the way to Washington, D.C., to lobby congressional leaders for their cause. They cringed when the war started anyway with the “shock and awe” bombing of Iraq.
Today, billions of dollars and thousands of U.S. casualties later, many of the same anti-war protestors are still fighting against a war they never supported. They are happy that Operation Iraqi Freedom appears to be drawing to a close, yet still remain cautious.
“We’re still very concerned about troops being re-deployed to Afghanistan,” Ilze Petersons of the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine said Thursday at an event in Bangor marking the sixth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. “While there are those who say this is the ‘right war,’ we believe that innocent civilians suffer and die. Such death and destruction fuel anger toward the U.S.”
Mary Ellen Quinn, representing the religious anti-war group Pax Christi, said she couldn’t get over the human cost of war. “And that cost is endless,” she added.
Counting casualties, while a bleak undertaking, is easy, but other human costs are harder to measure.
“Those who did the killing and witnessed the killing will suffer for the rest of their lives,” Quinn said. “Post-traumatic stress disorder is a serious epidemic.”
Ryan Tipping-Spitz, a community organizer with the Maine People’s Alliance, cannot get past the astronomical costs of war.
“There are so many things we could be doing or funding with these dollars,” he said.
Al Larson of the local chapter of Veterans for Peace said that as the war in Iraq winds down, it’s important for grass-roots organizers to help shape new foreign policy that focuses on diplomacy.
“It’s a lot less expensive to hold meetings and much more productive,” he said. “We need to embrace words, not weapons.”
He said activists can and should grab some ownership over the country’s new direction. After all, Larson observed, President Obama was elected in large part on the level of grass-roots support he generated.
A number of area organizations, including all four that participated in Thursday’s event, will hold an educational program 1-5 p.m. Saturday, March 21, at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bangor. The event, titled “New Organizing Strategies for the Obama Era,” is free and open to the public.