As hundreds of consumers crowded downtown San Francisco this Black Friday, local veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan interrupted shopping as usual with a reminder that men and women in uniform are still stationed overseas in harm's way this holiday season.
I was one of several members of Iraq Veterans Against the War who occupied the shopping district on the busiest day of the year with Operation First Casualty; guerrilla street theater whose name refers to the first casualty of war -- the truth. With the assistance of over 100 volunteers playing Iraqi civilians, IVAW reenacted scenes that are played out on a daily basis in Iraq to give onlookers a clearer perspective of what an occupation looks and feels like.
Volunteers were rounded up, detained, interrogated, and mock-water boarded. Our squad patrolled through busy streets and malls leaving tourists shocked and confused. At one point in the demonstration, a member of our squad was "shot" in the leg during a checkpoint and we returned fire on the crowd, creating a massive die-in and effectively blocking a busy intersection. Parents were forced to explain to crying children that it was theater and not actually happening. However, a supporter reminded the crowd that "These are not actors, they are veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. What you are seeing here today is not theater in the nations we occupy."
We held our finale at UN Plaza with the "Iraqi civilians" driving occupying forces away and reclaiming sovereignty. After our press conference we fed our volunteers and the many homeless people that spend their days in the area. We sought to highlight the work that our military could be doing in the absence of war, and the homeless epidemic that disproportionately affects veterans (only 1% of the general population are veterans, while we are about 25% of the homeless).
Even considering the ever-growing list of mistakes perpetuated by the Bush Administration on the American people and the mess they left of our economy, the war and occupation of Iraq is by far the costliest and most urgent problem president-elect Obama must address. Our criminally overstretched troops are being deployed for the 3rd, 4th, and even 5th time this holiday season. Those who return come home to inadequate health care and mental health support. Veterans choose to end their lives at a rate double that of civilians and if Vietnam War parallels persist, far more Iraq War veterans will die from their own hands than by those of enemy combatants.
So with all the distractions that accompany the end of the year, do not forget the sacrifices and hardships that are being endured by our troops and their families. And come January 20th, when we will have our first real chance for changing course in Iraq, we must not hesitate to make immediate withdrawal a top priority.
How will Trump’s administration impact you? Learn more