On the second anniversary of the Iraq invasion, Reno’s peace warriors met to strategize
“We must meet violence with non-violence. … We must meet hate with love.”
—Martin Luther King, as quoted on Peace Summit flier
The circle widened.
Before the start of Saturday’s Peace Summit at the First United Methodist Church in downtown Reno, a handful of tables formed a circle.
Activists kept coming. We pushed tables back and inserted more. But by the time about 50 people introduced themselves and “shared three words that mean peace” to them, more participants lined the edges of the meeting room.
The circle widened again.
I sat between Carlos Romo, director of equity and diversity at Truckee Meadows Community College, and Kaitlyn Straight, a 16-year-old student at Damonte Ranch High School. Romo surveyed the room.
“It doesn’t look very diverse to me,” Romo said.
Most of the faces were white or Latino. The group’s age diversity was much broader. Straight and her friend Kerry Dundas, 15, joked about representing the “young ‘uns.” The two girls are part of a high school club that put anti-war posters up at their school. The posters provoked some response from the student body, some of whom wrote replies on the posters.
On a poster that read, “100,000 civilians killed; 1,000 Americans dead,” someone wrote: “Do you believe this will bring the troops home?” On another poster, a writer commented: “Thank you for your opinion.”
Straight and her friends continued the dialogues on the posters.
“I wrote, ‘It’s not my opinion, these are the facts,'” she said. “'Even if you don’t want to hear it.'”
Though Straight’s dyed hair and black punk garb, complete with worn boots, might cause her teachers initial concern, Straight’s grade point average is a perfect 4.0. She’s already thinking about the many scholarships for which she’ll apply.
A red button on her handbag reads, “Keep America Free & Safe—ACLU.”
Many of the participants in Saturday’s summit to “network, brainstorm, strategize and take action for peace” were a bit older than the teen girls. The casual dress of most wouldn’t have been out of place at a GOP house party.
If he’d been there, U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons might have been surprised at the demographics of Reno’s peace community. Several weeks ago, Gibbons’ remarks to a crowd in Elko (plagiarized from an Alabama right-winger’s 2003 Happy Iraq Invasion speech) characterized peace mongers as “tree-hugging, Birkenstock-wearing, hippie, tie-dyed liberals.” Gibbons joked about sending peace activists to Iraq to be used as human shields.
The only tie-dyed T-shirt I saw at Saturday’s event was worn by Steve Gifford, a Sparks entrepreneur.
“My Birkenstocks are worn out,” he said. “I’ll have to get another pair.”
Gifford has considered picketing outside Gibbons office when the representative’s back in town. Gifford chuckled darkly as he described a possible sign: “My representative wants to kill me.”
Longtime Reno peace and anti-nuke activist John Hadder, long hair pulled back into a ponytail, welcomed everyone: “I hope everyone’s got their tie-dyed shirts and Birkenstocks, thank you, Rep. Gibbons.”
Saturday marked the second anniversary of the Iraq invasion by U.S. forces. By Saturday, the Department of Defense reported 1,516 American soldiers killed in combat and more than 11,220 seriously injured.
It’s harder to track the number of Iraqi civilians who have died. Reports by the Iraqi Body Count project range from 17,061 to 19,432. The IBC counts and independently verifies deaths reported in media and eyewitness accounts.
“I never got over my horror at state-sanctioned killing, organized willful violence of any kind,” said keynote speaker Rev. John Auer, who called himself an unapologetic idealist. “I cannot help but think of the children around the world today growing up against all the odds of violence, disaster and devastation of every kind, in their lives.”
The peace group broke for a free lunch—lentil and veggie burritos served by Reno’s Food Not Bombs. Then it was back to brainstorming on addressing community needs like poverty and homelessness, education campaigns, independent media efforts and countering the U.S. military’s enlistment propaganda.
A few expressed shock over the number of people who still believe that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has led to a wondrous democracy there.
These days, millions of Iraqis are without electricity or running water. In Iraq’s primary school system, once a model for Middle Eastern nations, millions of children attend classes in schools that lack basic water or sanitation facilities and have crumbling walls, broken windows and leaking roofs, according to a UNICEF report. In the Iraqi elections, anti-American parties pledging to remove the U.S. from Iraq were the big winners—an outcome that was little reported in the United States.
U.S. military forces who’d like to help rebuild continually see their efforts stymied by the increasing violence of those who view the United States as an occupying force.
Religious oppression—kept to a minimum under the totalitarian rule of Saddam Hussein—rages out of control. Christianity Today reports that Iraqi Christians are under attack “like never before.” Most have fled the country.
A New York Times headline Friday read, “A Haircut in Iraq Can Be the Death of the Barber.” Workers in Western-style Baghdad salons fear for their lives after the recent slayings of three Iraqis, including Sadiq Abdul Hussein, a barber. Barbers in Iraq are warned that they should no longer shave men’s beards or do Western-style haircuts.
“With little hope of police protection, most now refuse to offer the offending cuts and have placed prominent signs in their front windows saying so,” wrote Times reporter Robert F. Worth.
“When is it too many lives, too many lies and too many dollars before we say enough?” Hadder asked.
On Sunday, dozens of Reno peace activists spoke, sang and marched in front of the Thompson Federal Building in Reno. The march was well attended if uneventful. In Las Vegas, 25 protesters (out of the 90 gathered) were arrested for marching up the Las Vegas Strip to hold a candlelight vigil in front of the Bellagio Hotel & Casino.
Though public support for war seems to be declining, persecution of the peace community may be increasing. That’s troubling for activists, who remain hopeful in spite of arrests and name-calling by elected representatives.
“We know we are up against … ignorance and indifference, of apathy and apoplexy, that we would even suggest there is anything deeply troubled to this old world," Auer said. "It will take an enduring minority of what Dr. [Martin Luther] King playfully calls ‘the creatively maladjusted’ of us to raise the questions needed in such ways as may kindle imaginations. … In what and whose image do we want this and other nations to be?"