DEMOCRACY IN ACTION:

Forum at City Hall Allows Airing of Views on War vs. Iraq

by J. Russell Tyldesley

“We must use our collective intelligence to communicate effectively with our neighbors in the world community,” said Gary Norman during the public forum.
Many of those testifying about City Council Resolution no. 02-0944—which, if passed, would express the Council’s opposition to a U.S. war against Iraq also took part in a more informal town-meeting style discussion held the night before Thanksgiving.

Besides the Chronicle, there was no press coverage of the forum, although Gregory Kane, a columnist for the Sun, was in attendance and was coaxed to the mike to speak briefly from a personal viewpoint. He was more than a little skeptical of our administration’s motives in pushing for war. (In his column on Sunday, December 1, Kane wrote about how the “lefties” at least show up at such events and speak their minds. See end of this story for web address.—Ed.)

Following is a summary of the opinions of most of those who spoke out at the forum.

Peter Molan, representing Veterans for Peace, started the roundtable discussion going. He questioned whether President Bush will respect the U.N. as having the final say in what action, if any, to take against Saddam Hussein.

Reverend Reich of the First Baptist Church spoke next, and emphasized the horrors of war questioning the fact that none of the “war hawks” among Bush’s associates had ever been to war. He pointed out that the only one of his advisors with any combat experience was Secretary of State Colin Powell (Vietnam) ,who was known to be against the war, albeit not on the record. He went on to lament that the Democratic party had failed the American people.

He reminded those present that the U.S. is in trouble at home, and should not be wasting its limited resources on an unnecessary war.

Gary Norman spoke next, saying he was an ex-convict and had used his time in prison to study and read, trying to make sense of the world. He read the Bible and the Koran and tried to compare them. His opinion was that the U.S. is not setting the right example for the world. He suggested that we need “a new language, a new poetry—not new ‘isms’. We must use our collective intelligence to communicate effectively with our neighbors in the world community.”

Jeff Bigelow of the All Peoples Congress emphasized the extraordinary cost of a war with Iraq. He urged all those present to find friends and join in a mass mobilization of war protestors scheduled for January 18 and 19 in Washington, D.C.

Frank Smor, a retired military intelligence officer who now lives in Catonsville, said he feels that the key for Middle East stability is to solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict. He was not persuaded that oil is the major motivation for war against Iraq, saying he thought the defense industry is behind a lot of the push for a war solution.

Michael Seipp, speaking as a member of Generations for Democracy and Peace, did see oil as the key reason war is being promoted. Retired physics professor Dave Greene of the Citywide Coalition and other organizations followed, offering a more detailed analysis of the economics of war. Ron Solomon informed the audience that the anti-war movement is going mainstream, and noted that the Chicago City Council would soon be taking up consideration of an anti-war resolution, and there is talk that Philadelphia may follow suit.

Sixth District Councilman Kwame Abayomi, sponsor of the Baltimore City resolution under consideration, expressed his belief that the Baltimore City Council will pass a resolution opposing war in Iraq before the end of the year.

A. Robert Kaufman took the mike to declaim against the “idiotic notion” that could justify killing thousands to get at one man. He mentioned the tremendous anti-war sentiment in allied countries, specifically Italy, where as many as 500,000 rallied recently against war. (The Washington Post carried an article on December 1 about anti-war demonstrations over the weekend that counted more than 18,000 in several Australian cities protesting any involvement of their government in a U.S.-sponsored war against Iraq.)

Cindy Farquahar, a nurse and activist, spoke about the nursing shortage in the U.S., and the fact that nurses are already being shipped out on hospital ships bound for the Middle East theatre. She said that the expectation is that in ten years, our nursing shortage will be seven times greater than it is now. “We cannot afford this war,” she said, and expressed her fear of the smallpox threat, untold death and disease, and the psychological trauma that she believed can be expected to accompany a war in Iraq. (It should be noted that a good number of physicians testified against the war at the previous City Council hearing on the proposed resolution.)

Olandas Campbell presented a passionate argument regarding what he viewed as the duplicity of the Bush administration inherent in the timing of the war effort. He pointed out that it was only after 9/11 that President Bush discovered the “axis of evil.” He accused the government of promoting fear among its citizens. He stressed that if Saddam had the power to do mass evil, he would have done it already.

Herman Hein spoke as a former Vietnam War protester. He saw similarities with the Vietnam era in the rush to justify war this time.

Several Green Party members were in the audience. Bio Riaz focused on the importance of educating the community and fighting citizen apathy. She mentioned a demonstration to be held on December 10 at 5:00 p.m. at the Washington Monument in Baltimore. Women in Black and the American Friends Service Committee will co-sponsor the vigil. Miles Honig, co-chair of the Baltimore Greens, stressed the importance of this movement spreading to other cities and states, and suggested encouraging military people to refuse to participate.

The last speaker, Stephen Ceci, noted the absence of youthful faces at this meeting. A teacher, he said he felt that the majority of high school students are against the war. He said there should be discussions like the forum in every high school civics class.

Dr. Abayomi finally called the meeting to adjournment, citing the “certain prospect of domestic disturbance” if he didn’t get home at an early hour. There was unanimous agreement among those present that there should be more such open forum discussions.


Read Gregory Kane’s Dec. 1 column, “Foreign policy venture isn't idle exercise.”


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This story was published on December 4, 2002.