On Saturday, May 25, one of the first warm, sunny days of the year, protesters lined the four corners at Lincoln Memorial Drive and Lafayette Place, holding colorful signs and flags as drivers honked their horns in solidarity and patrons at Colectivo looked on.
A fluid crowd of around 90 to 100 people gathered for a rally to protest the Trump administration’s belligerent Iran policy. Passersby stopped to ask questions and some joined the group, organized by a coalition of Milwaukee anti-war and activist organizations.
Sonali, an activist with the Wisconsin Network for Peace & Justice, carried a sign quoting famous words by Martin Luther King, Jr.: “War is not the answer.” The sign had a broken-in look, and she said sadly, “This is a sign that we held when we were protesting the Iraq war. It’s a never-ending war.”
Many of the participants on Saturday were concerned that the administration’s Iran policy is a continuation of the policies that led to the United States’ disastrous intervention in Iraq in 2003. Millions of people in the United States and around the world took to the streets to protest the 2003 invasion, which led to increased instability in the region and a series of humanitarian catastrophes. The rise of ISIS is attributable to the invasion of Iraq.
Harvey Taylor said, “Sixteen years ago, the chicken hawks were cheerleaders” for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. “Some of the same chicken hawks,” whom Taylor described as “warmongers who found loopholes to avoid [military] service but are happy to send others” into battle, like National Security Advisor John Bolton, are still guiding U.S. policy today, Taylor said.
A number of people at the rally had first-hand experience of the impact of U.S. policies in the Middle East. Dr. Waleed Najeeb was part of a medical mission to Iraq during the period of draconian U.S. sanctions, treating civilians who were unable to obtain medical care because of the sanctions. Dr. Najeeb, who is originally from Syria, said, “Iran is supporting the Assad regime in Syria and is part of the atrocities. [However], war is not the answer. Innocent people will be hurt.”
Among the organizations sponsoring Saturday’s event were End the Wars Coalition & Peace Action of WI; Veterans for Peace; United Nations Assoc. MKE; Friends Committee on National Legislation; WI Cuba Coalition; Progressive Democrats of America MKE; 350.org MKE; Palestine Action Network; Catholics for Peace and Justice; WI Network for Peace, Justice and Sustainability; WI Bail Out the People; Latin America Solidarity Coalition; Green Party; and Party for Socialism & Liberation. Also represented were Citizen Action; Students for a Democratic Society; and a new major at Marquette University, the Peace Studies Program.
The protesters gathered at noon on Saturday, and a rally and speeches began at 12:45. One of the organizers, Julie Enslow, told the assembled crowd, “The administration wants us to go to war based on lies.”
Another organizer, Jim Carpenter, explained that “Iran was totally in sync with the international nuclear agreement,” despite the Trump administration’s assertion that Iran continued to develop nuclear weapons, used as an excuse for the U.S. withdrawal from the terms of the treaty, which European countries continue to uphold. The U.S. has imposed new sanctions on Iran since withdrawing.
As one of the protest signs on Saturday said, “Sanctions are War.”
Carpenter read a letter from Congresswoman Gwen Moore that was signed by 100 of her colleagues. Congresswoman Moore criticized, “the president’s dangerous decision to rip up the Iran nuclear deal,” which could have prevented “a volatile region from becoming more combustible.”
Milwaukeeans of Iranian descent were walking on Lake Drive and happened upon the protest. They called friends to come and join the demonstration. One Iranian-American, Anahita, took the mic during the rally. Her voice broke as she said, “We can’t see our friends and family due to the Muslim ban. They can’t come here. This is so heartbreaking to see Trump sending troops to the Persian Gulf.”
The Trump administration announced last week that it would send 1,500 additional troops to the region and allow the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Jordan, according to the New York Times.
Under pressure from “hard-liners” like Bolton, the Pentagon could send as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East – if Iran were to “accelerate” nuclear production, the Times said.
Mark Forman, a member of Veterans for Peace who has been disabled since his service in Vietnam, told the crowd, “You guys are giving me hope. All I wanted to know when I got home from Vietnam is, who is responsible?” Forman said as many as 3 million civilians were killed in Vietnam. “This nation is a beast,” Forman said.
Janan Najeeb, the president of Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition, which publishes Wisconsin Muslim Journal, told the rally, “This is the same old story of colonialism. That we should be able to get what other’s have. This is not the story of the people of the United States versus the people of Iran.” Mrs. Najeeb pointed out that Muslims are currently observing Ramadan, “a time of fasting and reflection and of thinking about what we are doing for humanity.” She asserted that “the people of Iran do not need to suffer because of what our governments do.”
Another rally speaker, Samir Moukaddam, pointed out the role of the Israeli government in U.S. Iran policy. “Apartheid Israel also wants war” he said. “The Israeli lobby . . . are strongly pro-war on Iran. They campaigned against the Iran nuclear deal.” Moukaddam asserted that Palestine will be “on the political map” during the 2020 Democratic convention and added, “Judaism is not Zionism.”
After the rally, I spoke with Vahiv, a Milwaukeean from Iran who said, “I hate [the Iranian] government. . . . Lots of my friends are arrested inside the country . . . but the [idea of] war is ridiculous. It will not bring peace. The war in Iraq didn’t resolve anything. Lots of Iranian people inside and outside the country hope to change the regime. But when you try to change the government from the outside, you make the situation worse.”
Lila Aryan Photography for The Wisconsin Muslim Journal