WASHINGTON, September 5 (by Karin Zeitvogel for RIA Novosti) – As the United States inches closer to military action against Syria, the anti-war movement around the country is gathering steam and going beyond the usual street protests to voice opposition to the use of force against Syria.
On Saturday, hundreds of protesters will be bussed in from cities up and down the east coast for a march from the White House to Capitol Hill in Washington, with many staying on for another rally on Monday, which is being organized by Syrian Americans opposed to US military intervention.
Anti-war activists in dozens of other US towns and cities are also organizing local street protests on Saturday, with rallies due to be held from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Youngstown, Ohio.
The ANSWER Coalition, one of the groups organizing these first nationwide protests against US plans to strike Syria, expects thousands to show up – much less than turned out for protests against the US invasion of Iraq in the early 2000s.
All of the protests against US strikes on Syria have been small so far, but noisy and creatively visual, like the one before the start of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Tuesday where an activist from the Code Pink protest group dressed in the movement’s vivid pink signature color, stood up in the hearing room, waved two signs in the air and shouted: “We cannot afford to have another war!”
Prior to the hearing's start a Code Pink protester at the Senate Foreign Relations Cmte. Watch LIVE on C-SPAN. pic.twitter.com/j42Wg9wInW— CSPAN (@cspan) September 3, 2013
At a hearing by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, activists silently held up their hands covered in fake red blood as US Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey tried to convince members of Congress to approve President Barack Obama's plan for a limited military response to the Syrian regime's alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians last month.
Code Pink, which was set up in 2002 when the drumbeat was building for the US invasion of Iraq launched the following year, is “planning creative protests all next week,” including one inside the cafeteria of a House of Representatives office building, Code Pink founder, Medea Benjamin, told RIA Novosti.
The US march toward military action is the main target of Code Pink’s protests, but Benjamin also had words for Russia, saying Moscow’s and Washington’s intransigence was doing nothing to end the bloodshed in Syria, where the United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed in 2-1/2 years of civil war, and more than 2 million people have fled to neighboring countries.
“Russia has taken its side and the US has taken its side and none of that is helpful for finding an end to the conflict,” Benjamin said.
“It’s just become a proxy war when everyone should be calling for a ceasefire and a negotiated solution,” she said.
Another protest harnessed social media, as men dressed in US military uniform who claimed to be serving currently in the armed forces posted pictures of themselves online, their faces obscured by handwritten signs bearing messages saying they did not join the military to “fight for al Qaeda in a Syrian civil war.”
A former US Army officer who did three tours in Iraq said on his Facebook page that “there is little doubt that many are real serving service members.”
The officer, who asked not to be identified, called the protest “sad” and “an embarrassment to the uniform.”
But, he told RIA Novosti, he is “not a fan of these strikes” being sought by Obama because “I just don't think we have a plan for the next steps.”
So far, the US protests, including a noisy gathering of dozens of demonstrators outside the White House on Saturday as Obama announced his intention to seek approval from Congress for strikes, don’t come close in magnitude to the huge rallies that drew hundreds of thousands of Americans onto the streets in the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq, ANSWER spokeswoman Sarah Sloan told RIA Novosti.
“We’re just as strenuously opposed to US action against Syria as we were to the Iraq war, but the fact that Obama is strategically stressing there won’t be any, quote-unquote, US boots on the ground, impacts our ability to get people to come out into the streets and feel the urgency of this,” Sloan said.
The text of the resolution approved Wednesday by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would permit Obama to order a limited military strike against Syria that would not exceed 90 days and would involve no American troops on the ground for combat operations.
It still has to be approved by the full Senate when it reconvenes next week, and by the 435-member House of Representatives before it can be sent to Obama for his signature.
Even with the promises of a limited strike and no boots on the ground, anti-war groups “consider this very urgent,” Sloan said, adding that the Syrian people “are also against the bombing.”
“They have the capacity to express themselves on this, but what they’re trying to do right now is organize themselves and survive because they may be about to be bombed by the most powerful military power in the world,” at the request, she said, of rebel groups in Syria.
That worries Sloan who said: “I don’t think that any real liberation movement would ever call on any country to bomb them, especially not the United States. That exposes who the rebels really are.”
Syrian groups fighting to topple President Bashar Assad have been accused of acts of brutality, and many outsiders, including in Russia and the United States, have voiced fears that the opposition movement in Syria has been taken over by radical elements, including al-Qaida, which could fill the void left by the ouster of Assad.
But for the moment, the war in Syria rages on, US lawmakers continue to debate whether or not to allow Obama to take action against Assad’s regime, which the United States has accused of being behind a deadly chemical weapons attack last month, and protesters voice opposition to both.
And in dozens of cities around the United States, protest organizers have already called for demonstrations on the day a US strike on Syria is launched, if in fact that happens.