The gulf war has faded from the front pages–and even the memories of many Americans–but it is not over for the Iraqi people or for a handful of local activists. One year ago the Persian Gulf was on everyone’s mind, and thousands of people took to the streets to protest the mobilization of American troops. But shortly after the bombing of Baghdad began, the Bush administration managed to convey the idea that their protest was somehow un-American.
In late 1990 Chicago was one of the few cities to boast a coalition of organizations working to oppose American intervention in the gulf. The Emergency Coalition for Peace in the Middle East, which united members of close to 50 local groups, no longer formally exists, but several organizations from it have expanded their own efforts to include the Middle East. This small but committed group of Chicagoans remained active after the war, pushing to lift sanctions and deliver desperately needed food and medical supplies to Iraq, and publicizing the effects of U. S. policies on ordinary Iraqi citizens.
One of these groups, the 8th Day Center for Justice, has held a weekly vigil since August 1990 in front of the Dirksen Federal Building. Representatives of the 23 Roman Catholic communities that make up this organization gather every Monday from 4:30 to 5:30 to hand out leaflets: the most recent point out that thousands are still dying daily in Iraq due to inadequate food, medical supplies, and sanitary facilities. “When they began rattling the sabers in Washington, the vigil was antiwar and anti-intervention,” says Sister Dolores Brooks, an 8th Day Center staff person. “More recently we’ve focused the vigil on babies, children, and women in Iraq. It’s inhumane what we’re doing there. We’re not pro-Hussein in any way–we’re pro the people of Iraq.”
Like many gulf activists, Brooks was no expert on the modern Middle East,though she did spend three months with the Catholic Theological Union in the occupied West Bank in 1986. But the 8th Day Center had long worked in peace and human-rights issues, and though its primary international focus was on Central America, the Philippines, and South Africa, the Middle East was a natural addition.
In May Brooks traveled to 14 cities, from LA to New York, with the Caravan of Solidarity, which was organized by the National Assembly of Religious Women. They collected medicine and money for medical aid for Iraq, which Brooks then helped deliver. “We met a lot of ordinary Iraqis who kept asking ‘Why did you bomb us?’ They think of the U.S. as a place of justice, opportunity. Many of them have relatives here. And when our foreign policy hit them, they didn’t understand.
“The worst thing we saw was children dying because of the destruction of their country. More people died after the war than during. Politically, it’s said we keep sanctions on so the people will overthrow the government. But it’s difficult to overthrow a government. And when people do overthrow oppressive governments, like in Central America, our government doesn’t support them. ”
Brooks, along with a number of women from other organizations working on Middle East issues–Jennifer Bing-Canar of the American Friends Service Committee, Mary Abowd of Synapses, Camille Odeh of the National Assembly of Religious Women and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Associations, and Jennifer Cohen of Pledge of Resistance–have organized a rally and candlelight vigil for January 16 to commemorate the start of the bombing of Iraq. The rally will begin at 4:30 at the Dirksen Federal Building, Adams and Dearborn, and will culminate in a candlelight procession to the Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington. An interfaith service–featuring talks by Jewish, Christian, and Muslim community leaders and music by Majed Abu Ajameyeh and an African American youth choir–will begin at 5:30 at the temple. Pledge of Resistance is also sponsoring a forum on the connections between aggression abroad and oppression at home on Saturday, January 18, at 7 PM in room 154 of De Paul University’s Schmitt Academic Center, 2323 N. Seminary; a $5 donation is requested. For more information call 427-2533.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Charles Eshelman.