The current war in Iraq has stretched on for five years, and Santa Barbara residents opposed to this military effort are gathering on Saturday to collectively object to what they say is a five-year mistake.
Representatives from various organizations sponsoring “Five Years Too Many,” an all-day protest against the war convened at the Veterans Memorial Building on Thursday to discuss exactly how this day will play out. The protest will focus on issues targeted by Iraq War Veterans Against the War (IVWA) testifying at the “Winter Soldier” hearings in Washington D.C. that same day. Named in honor of a similar gathering some 30 years prior to protest the Vietnam War, the hearings will take place from March 13-16 at the National Labor College outside of Washington, D.C., and will be shown live at the “Five Years Too Many” event in Santa Barbara.
Thursday’s conference opened with some grim footage from the war and interviews with soldiers and veterans who spoke against the government and deemed its policies on the matter failures. Following the screening, speakers from various supporting organizations discussed how the war leaves soldiers, families, and communities entrenched in despondency and economic destitution. Arlington West founder and Veterans For Peace member Steve Sherrill reported that thus far, over $500 billion has been spent and is growing at a rate of $275 million per day. By the end of the war, he said, we’ll have spent an excess of $3 trillion. “Every penny will go up in smoke, leaving only the interest payments [for our children] to pay,” Sherrill said.
Sherrill said that while the cost is abominable, the numbers of lives lost is a shame. “Four thousand [soldiers] are dead; over 30,000 wounded. Millions of Iraqi men, women and children have been killed injured or driven from their homes,” Sherrill said. “Our country has assumed the role of the bully on the world playground:and clearly it is not working.”
Joel Rodriguez-Flores, a representative of activist group PUEBLO, said fiscally negligent war policies further limit educational opportunities offered to children of working families. He reported that despite the rising cost of higher education, the government just removed $14 billion from funding for higher education programs, making it the largest budget cut in history. “[The war is] a divestment from government and social programs,” Rodriguez-Flores said. “This affects our young people tremendously; low-income youths have a better chance of being sent to war and dying in war than going to college.” He said the war has generated unnecessary xenophobia within American communities, addressing the physical and sexual violence directed towards those immigrating to the United States. “I’ve seen a wave of intolerance towards people who are different,” he said. “The government lumped together anti-terrorism and immigrants, [which] creates so much fear [within the community]. The rhetoric built up with the war has had a huge impact on our community. [PEUBLO] is really invested in making sure this war ends.”
With reference to Henry Thoreau and Howard Zin, People’s Coalition co-chair Marcelino Sepulveda said social injustices caused by this war mitigate a government’s legitimacy, and mark a need for community unification. “Only when people push into the public eye does government pay attention,” said Sepulveda. “If we stand together, we can alter history.” Sepulveda said he was confident that, by the end of the day, community members will feel more empowered to make change.
“Five Years Too Many” will begin at Vera Cruz Park at 10 a.m. with an open mike and several performers – including another People’s Coalition co-chair, Penny Little, who will be singing. Then, at 11:30 a.m. a pre-march rally will commence with a speech by David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, as well as a presentation by city councilmember Grant House on Mayor Marty Blum’s personal thoughts on the war. At noon, participants will take to the streets in a march to the Santa Barbara Courthouse, and form a giant peace sign at the Sunken Gardens. Then from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. workshops and a live feed for the “Winter Soldier” hearings will be available to the public at the Faulkner Gallery. Following the protest, there will be an all-night candlelight vigil for fallen soldiers through Sunday afternoon at the Arlington West memorial on the beach near Stearn’s Wharf.