Antiwar protesters take a stand in Fayetteville

FAYETTEVILLE — About 100 people waved signs and encouraged honks of support from passing vehicles Saturday in front of the Washington County Courthouse during a protest against a war with Iran.

The protest was organized by the Omni Center for Peace, Justice and Ecology & the Arkansas Nonviolence Alliance and was attended by organizations such as Socialist Alternative and Food Not Bombs NWA.

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Source: Staff report

The protest was in conjunction with others throughout the nation Saturday, said Dick Bennett of Fayetteville, Omni Center founder.

The center’s mission is to educate, empower and connect people to build a nonviolent, sustainable and just world, according to the nonprofit organization’s website.

No central organization coordinated the nationwide rallies, Bennett said, noting the center would have been protesting the war Saturday regardless of what others were doing.

“We did this three months without cessation last time we started this series,” Bennett said.

About 20 people attended each of those protests last summer, said Abel Tomlinson of Fayetteville, founder of Arkansas Nonviolence Alliance.

The alliance is a movement toward nonviolent conflict resolution in all aspects of society, particularly focused on eliminating the scourge of war.

“We’ve had bigger demonstrations with 500 people against the Iraq war, but this one is exceeding last year by far,” Tomlinson said Saturday.

Many of the protesters were drawn to the event following an American military airstrike Thursday killing Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s top general, at Baghdad’s international airport. The act constitutes an act of war by the United States, Tomlinson said.

“I believe in defending, but I don’t believe in going overseas and engaging in these wars that are not about freedom and democracy,” he said. “They’re about imperialism.”

The cost of war for the American people is too high, he said.

“If we send more kids to fight and kill in Iran and die in Iran, a bunch more are going to come back mentally scarred and damaged,” Tomlinson said. “If you really, honestly care about veterans, you will oppose wars, because wars kill veterans both directly and through PTSD and suicide.”

As many as 20% of veterans who served in Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom have post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD.

Some 6,139 veterans died from suicide in 2017, according to the 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report by the VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. The suicide rate for veterans was 1.5 times greater than nonveteran adults in 2017.

There’s also a high financial price to pay for war, Tomlinson said.

“We’re wasting trillions of dollars on wars that should be going into clean energy, health care and education,” he said.

Sheila Czech of Fayetteville attended the protest as the local branch organizer for Socialist Alternative.

“We’re part of a national organization that fights for things like better living wages, for affordable housing and also for things like anti-imperialism and antiwar,” Czech said.

Czech said she was shocked to hear about the killing of Soleimani and the rising tensions between the United States and Iran.

“The big takeaway from this is the U.S. does not have the right to impede on the rights of other people and other nations,” she said. “A lot of people talk about how other countries interfere in our elections and things like that, but no one has bombed us recently.”

Czech encourages people who want to help prevent war between the U.S. and Iran to attend future protests and to get involved with local anti-war organizations.

“Starting locally, I think, is the best start and then from there kind of network and become more politically educated,” she said. “There’s value in joining organizations that have national and international ties.”

Tomlinson said swaying public opinion can be the key to influencing regional and national leadership.

“Anytime you get out here and express an opinion like this, it’s influencing public opinion,” he said. “Public opinion, in my mind, is the ultimate ruler. Public opinion determines things.”

Cambry Parrish, 16, of Farmington was driving by the protest with a couple of her friends after doing some shopping in downtown Fayetteville and decided to join the protest in the spur of the moment.

“We don’t want there to be a war at all,” Parrish said, adding she could help make an impact by attending more events of that nature in the future. “I hope that people just get the message and realize that there’s no need for a war right now.”

Tomlinson said he hopes to continue to build awareness for future antiwar protests.

“We expect to continue doing these kind of things, and we hope that more and more people will join us,” he said. “That’s how you build a movement.”

NW News on 01/05/2020

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