Roving peace protest to circle Garden Island

Jon Letman

Lihue, KAUAI—March 20 marks the seventh anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Currently the U.S. has some 96,000 troops in that country, nearly six years after then-U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer formally transferred sovereignty back to the Iraqi government. While troop levels have fallen to below 100,000 for the first time since “Shock and Awe,” the Obama plan keeps at least 50,000 U.S. military personnel in Iraq through next summer.

A complete withdrawal is scheduled to occur by the end of 2011, but the U.S. top commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno recently said that a withdrawal could be delayed (or accelerated) depending on conditions on the ground.

In February, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced the Iraq war has been approved to be renamed “Operation New Dawn” from next September. Meanwhile, U.S. forces are gradually being drawn down in Iraq, allowing for redeployments to Afghanistan.

The U.S. war and occupation of Afghanistan, well into its eighth year, is now the second longest war in U.S. history (after Vietnam). The conflict is again making headlines with a major offensive underway. With the stepped-up military action comes additional military deaths (now over 1,007 in Afghanistan) and a rising civilian death toll following NATO air strikes that killed Afghan women and children last month.

General David Petraeus called the military thrust “just the initial operation of what will be a twelve-to-eighteen month campaign.”

Critics of America’s ongoing foreign occupations point out that “even as one war blurs into another, anti-war sentiment in the U.S. is largely muted.”

Where’s the beef?

That lack of active protesting nationwide may be explained, in part, by the fact that over the last three years, millions of Americans have been swept up in a maelstrom of financial insecurity and despair as they have watched jobs, homes, savings, and entire livelihoods go down the drain.

With all the bankruptcies, firings, foreclosures, furloughs, cutbacks, and layoffs, it would appear that most Americans simply don’t have the time or energy to demonstrate against a seemingly intractable war policy. Obama’s campaign promises of hope and change are yielding growing alienation from supporters and opponents alike.

But one group on Kauai refuses to let up. Members of the Kauai Alliance for Peace and Social Justice are determined not to throw their hands up in resignation even as the collective American voice of dissent seems all but absent.

On Saturday, March 13, the Kauai Alliance is holding a roving roadside demonstration at five locations across the Garden Isle. The theme of the protest is “funding for jobs, education, and health care, not war.”

Alliance member Raymond Catania, a life-long activist and recently furloughed state employee says, “As residents of Hawaii, we need to continue to speak out about important issues that affect all of our daily lives. If people say the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not local issues, I disagree. People right here are losing their homes, their jobs, and basic health care. Our children’s own education is being sacrificed.”

He says people should be asking why banks and large corporations have received billions of dollars in bailout money from the federal government while states like Hawaii are left to fend for themselves as basic social services are drastically cut or eliminated completely.

Catania says it is ironic that the first president from Hawaii advocates expanding classroom time even as his own home state has fallen to the fewest instructional days in the nation as public school furloughs show no end in sight.

“We need to ask why Obama proposes a three-year discretionary funding freeze but is increasing the military budget and escalating the war in Afghanistan,” Catania says.

Another Alliance member, Kip Goodwin, says, “It’s not just what we’re spending our money on. It’s also what we’re not spending our money on—from education, healthcare, our own basic infrastructure.”

Goodwin says there is a lot of untapped anger in the American public, but suggests people are distracted from the “800-pound gorilla, our military budget, which comes at the expense of our own people’s welfare.”

Alliance members hope to generate more interest and understanding among younger generations whose future prosperity and promise, they say, is being gutted by unsustainable military spending.

They point to the National Priorities Project (NPP), a non-profit research organization that analyzes federal data. NPP reports on its website that the United States has spent more than $966 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.

The cost of these wars, broken down by state, amounts to more than $3.1 billion for Hawaii tax payers alone. For the 2nd Congressional District, which includes Kauai County, that’s $1.7 billion spent on war since 2001.

NPP has calculated that same amount of money could pay for providing health care for 551,830 people for one year, or 2.75 million homes with renewable electricity for one year, or 30,577 elementary school teachers for one year.

With these statistics in mind, the Kauai Alliance announced the March 13 roving demonstration at the following locations and times:

9:00 a.m. in both Waimea (near the Captain Cook statue) and Eleele at the Port Allen turn off the Kaumualii Highway
10:30 a.m. in Puhi in front of Kauai Community College
1:00 p.m. in Kapaa near Safeway
2:30 p.m. in Anahola at the Hokualele intersection
3:30 p.m. in Kilauea near the Menehune Mart

Kauai residents and visitors are encouraged to participate in this event at any of the above locations with or without signs and placards to peacefully demonstrate against what the Alliance calls “inappropriate and wasteful military spending at the expense of social and environmental needs.”