Busload of Mainers to attend NYC anti-war rally

Posted March 14, 2011, at 9:11 p.m.

A group of Mainers will travel to New York City in April for a demonstration against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the hope of breathing new life into an anti-war movement.

The rally, which is expected to draw hundreds, if not thousands of protesters, is being sponsored by the United National Antiwar Committee, a coalition of peace and justice groups from across the country that was founded in 2010 to speak out against global violence and the two wars.

In Maine, efforts to send protesters to the rally are being overseen by the Midcoast Peace and Justice Group in Warren.  Steve Burke, an organizer from the group overseeing travel arrangements, said the bus, capable of holding 56 passengers, is three-quarters full already.

Protesters attending the New York City rally will focus their discontent on not only the U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also on the lethargic economy and other domestic issues that event organizers say are causing problems for the middle class in addition to jeopardizing civil liberties.

“In the past these kinds of rallies didn’t seem to accomplish much,” Burke said when asked why after nearly a decade spent by the U.S. military in both Iraq and Afghanistan, his group was choosing to charter a bus to New York City now. “We feel with people making a difference in Tunisia, Egypt and other places in the Mideast that now is a good time to make an attempt at changing the course of events in our country.”

“It’s time to get back to the streets,” he added.

To date, according to the U.S. Department of Defense, 4,421 U.S. service members have died in the Iraq war and 1,489 have died in Afghanistan. Burke also cited the costs of both wars as a motivation to protest the conflicts. He said his group’s motto is “Bring the war dollars home.”

“These issues have got to be on the minds of Maine people,” he said. “Taxpayers in Maine have  paid $3.4 billion since 2001 for these wars. This is money that we could be spending on infrastructure, schools and hospitals.”

The costs of the wars linked by Burke to Maine taxpayers are drawn from a study conducted by the National Priority Project, an organization of economists and research analysts dedicated to making the federal budget more transparent.

The rally will take place on April 9 in New York City’s Union Square. In addition to Burke’s group, there will be many others from across the country. All will unite to speak out against both wars, but protesters will also demonstrate against the bailouts that followed the financial meltdown in 2008, and on other domestic issues, such as proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and state workers’ rights in various parts of the country.

Burke said the Midcoast Peace Action group has sent dozens of buses to other events across the country in years past. The group plans on chartering another bus in the event the first one fills up and demand is great enough for another.

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