by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
Occupy’s First Anniversary (photo: Charles Nelson)
Occupella Chorus (photo: Charles Nelson)
Occupy Together (photo: Charles Nelson)
Eva David at Canvass for a Cause
“I know most of the American people don’t want us to stay in Afghanistan, but by simple inertia it keeps going,” Congressmember Bob Filner, candidate for Mayor of San Diego in the November 6 election, told a small but dedicated group of Occupy San Diego (OSD) members and supporters at a San Diego Veterans for Peace (SDVFP) rally outside the U.S.S. Midway on the Embarcadero downtown October 7. “Thank you for standing up. The rest of America should listen. It’s time to add the voice of reason, to say to Mr. Obama and everybody in Congress, ‘Support the troops! Bring them home now!’”
Filner’s presence before a crowd of Occupy people, many of whom don’t believe there’s any difference between the Democratic and Republican parties and some of whom reject electoral democracy altogether, marked him as different both from current San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and Filner’s election opponent, City Councilmember Carl DeMaio. Sanders worked with the San Diego Police Department, which he used to run before he entered politics, to clear the Occupiers out of Civic Center Plaza last fall. DeMaio denounced them and held a counter-demonstration of his own, trotting out food-cart owners in the plaza whose businesses had supposedly been ruined by Occupy.
The VFP rally was the climax of a schedule of events that was originally supposed to last only one day but, as the planning continued, stretched out to a full weekend of outdoor gatherings, meetings, marches and celebrations. The slogan on the leaflet was, “It’s Been A Year Since We All Woke Up Together … AND WE HAVEN’T SLEPT YET!” Judging from how tightly the weekend was scheduled and how many events were crammed into it, one could readily believe that the Occupiers are a new breed of people who’ve somehow managed to eliminate the need for sleep.
The Occupy weekend opened with a meet-up at noon Saturday, October 6 at Sixth and Nutmeg in Balboa Park. They spent the afternoon, according to their schedule, “breaking bread” and holding teach-ins and workshops on various issues. At 5:30 p.m. they scheduled an “OSD Celebration Rally” and then staged a “light march” to the Canvass for a Cause (CFAC) headquarters on 10th Avenue in Hillcrest. The lights were little Christmas-tree lamps mounted on signboards to spell out, “YES ON 37” — the initiative on the November 6 ballot to require that genetically modified foods sold in California be labeled as such. Saturday ended with a “birthday celebration” inside CFAC featuring musical performers.
Sunday began with an assembly in Civic Center Plaza with the SDVFP, followed by a march to the U.S.S. Midway — a former aircraft carrier converted into a museum with an outdoor restaurant on the rear deck. Eva David, an Occupy activist and president of Activist San Diego (ASD), came to the mike at the SDVFP rally to announce ASD’s latest and biggest project — KNSJ 89.1 FM, a radio station under construction in Descanso whose programming is already available on line at www.knsj.org — couldn’t resist pointing to the Midway and saying, “I don’t know any enemy we have that we need something like that to fight. When I see the Midway I see the physical projection of the paranoid delusion of the people running this country.”
Ironically, the marchers had to thread their way through another monument to the greed of the 1 percent to get to the Midway at all. Many of the normal routes to the Embarcadero from downtown were blocked off by construction of monumental buildings on the San Diego waterfront in a project masterminded by anti-union, anti-Queer hotel owner and developer Doug Manchester — and, like many of San Diego’s major construction projects, bullied through a complaisant city bureaucracy and City Council by sheer will power and gall. The march took place in the shadow of banners advertising “San Diego’s New Waterfront” and giving August 2013 as the completion date for a project that has been criticized for cutting off the view of San Diego Bay for anyone not wealthy and fortunate enough to live or work in the new Manchester buildings.
Though Bob Filner was present — he was virtually the only elected official in San Diego County to acknowledge the Occupy anniversary — that didn’t stop many of the other speakers from bashing the Democratic Party as much or more than they criticized the Republicans. Gabe Conaway from CFAC, representing the Bradley Manning Support Network, said of the first Presidential candidates’ debate Wednesday, October 3, “Little did the majority of the viewing audience know that the Democratic and Republican parties had secretly negotiated a deal that dictated the topics for debate and excluded independent voices. At the same time that this weapon of mass distraction has lured some of the American public into an illusion of democracy, the story of the last few decades has been largely ignored.”
Conaway described Manning as “a young [U.S. Army] private who found the courage to do something no one else had been able [to do]. This private was confronted with the evidence of how our rulers operate. … Private Manning wanted you to see a video of the U.S. military committing war crimes in Iraq, as well as other information that led to the ouster of all combat troops from Iraq. Manning wanted you to know that our government outsources torture; that there is an official policy to violate the U.N. Convention against torture, to ignore evidence of torture, and that we still transfer detainees to regimes that torture. Manning wanted you to know that U.S. officials were told to cover up evidence of child abuse and child trafficking by the defense contractor DynCorp in Afghanistan. That company receives $2 billion of your tax dollars every year.”
According to Conaway, Manning’s information revealed “that both the Bush and Obama administrations lied about civilian deaths in their dirty wars” and that both administrations maintained secret “death counts” of 109,000 Iraqis killed by the U.S. between 2004 and 2009, 66,000 of whom were noncombatants. He also said that Manning’s documents showed that Obama worked with the president of Yemen to cover up a secret drone bombing campaign in that country. For this, Manning was not only arrested and charged under military law with 32 separate crimes — some of which carry the death penalty — but was held in solitary confinement for over a year, itself a violation of the Geneva Convention against torture, and was forbidden from having sheets, pillows or even clothes in his cell. “All of this happened under Barack Obama, the man some people in this country refer to as ‘the lesser of two evils,’ the Constitutional scholar who declared Manning’s guilt long before any semblance of a trial,” Conaway sneered.
Dave Patterson of SDVFP mentioned the U.S. use of drone aircraft in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere in the world and said that under the rules of the drone program, “The President can kill anyone he wants without talking to anyone. It’s unbelievable. Our President has the ability to assassinate anyone at will.” Patterson said his group leads an anti-drone protest against General Atomics, San Diego-based manufacturer of the Predator and Reaper drones, every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. at General Atomics’ plant, corner of Scripps Poway Parkway and General Atomics Way in Poway. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.sdvfp.org/events/.
“We lost 4,485 U.S. troops in Iraq,” said retired Air Force Col. David Gapp, who added that despite popular belief that the U.S. military involvement in Iraq is over, “we still have 100,000 contractors in Iraq.” Gapp brought a large sign on which he mounted photographs of U.S. casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan because “I want you to see the kids who have been blown up and dismembered. My dad was killed in Viet Nam. I was 12 years old. He left my mom with four kids. … Before Obama took office we’d had 650 people killed in Afghanistan. Now we have 2,115. When Obama took office we had 33,000 troops in Afghanistan. He ‘surged’ to 110,000 and now we have 68,000. Officially, there have been 10,000 Afghan civilians killed, but we think it’s closer to 100,000.”
Maurice Martin, who leads a branch of Veterans for Peace on the campus of San Diego City College — and who did his fighting in a U.S. war against El Salvador in the 1970’s that officially didn’t exist — talked about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the high rate of suicides among U.S. veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I’ve been dealing with PTSD and it’s cost me my home, my wife, my children,” Martin said. “Many of us veterans can’t go back to the Veterans’ Administration (VA) because you don’t go back to the dog that bit you. One thousand new clinicians won’t help 600,000 people diagnosed with PTSD. We need protections to help veterans and their family members as well.”
“In our fear and weakness, we’ve allowed to be put into place laws that prevent us from protesting our elected officials,” said Melissa Behrens of Occupy San Diego. “I was raised to believe that being an American meant recognizing our community responsibility to protect freedom, and that it’s worth fighting for. The system was built on the idea that no man should infringe on the rights of another. That’s why we have checks and balances. We the people have an obligation to be a check on all of them and make sure those who defend this country are not misused and wasted.”
“Capitalism is a system of economic competition that becomes a system of military competition,” said Avery Dennison of the International Socialist Organization. “Neither Obama nor Romney will withdraw from Iraq or Afghanistan unless forced, not because Iraq or Afghanistan are so important but because they’re fighting a war for spheres of influence with China, Russia, Europe and the other rich countries. That’s why capitalism sets up a ‘two-party’ system that makes it difficult to end the wars. It would not work as a system to contain dissent unless one party was ‘better’ than the other, but it’s ‘better’ only as a way to co-opt dissent.”
Local activist Cathy Mendonça from the Committee Against Police Brutality saw the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as just the latest struggle for imperial and colonial control of the rest of the world, not so much by rich countries as by corporations that exist beyond traditional loyalties to any one nation. “They are traitors,” Mendonça said of these international corporations. “They strip us of our resources, keep us politically passive and enrich themselves at our expense. … Neocolonialism may have slicker rules, but it’s still an old game at our expense. … To assert their control over our future, the state and the elites can and will use the police to maintain the system and keep the people in fear.”
“I want to talk about the moral costs of war,” said Stephanie Jennings, one of the three co-founders of the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice (SDCPJ), formed three days after the September 11, 2001 attacks. “Afghanis, Iraqis, Syrians, Bahrainis, Yemenis are dying in the dozens for every one of us that dies, and I want to remind us of our moral imperative. We in this movement are on the side of right.”