A young protester demonstrates on Staten Island (Photo: Thomas Good)
New York, NY – January 11, 2007 About 60 activists and organizers demonstrated outside Borough Hall, the seat of local government on Staten Island, today. The protest was called by the Staten Island chapters of the Movement for a Democratic Society (MDS), Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) and the World Can’t Wait (WCW). Shortly after the action was called it was endorsed by Peace Action Staten Island. The protest was initially planned to mark the 5th anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, a “house of horrors”, according to MDS Organizer Thomas Good. The scope of the protest was broadened shortly before the event when US President George W. Bush announced that, in response to the utter failure of his Iraq War policy and the calls for withdrawal, he would send an additional 20,000 troops to Iraq. Bush’s complete disregard for public opinion angered many and the Staten Island protest drew a large crowd despite the very cold weather. Organizers said that the protest was part of a network of nationwide solidarity actions – solidarity with both the “Witness Against Torture” initiative and the “America Says No” campaign. It was also promoted by MoveOn.org and WBAI – a Pacific a radio station.
SDS/MDS New York turned out in force (Photo: Thomas Good)
The protest occurred on the steps of Borough Hall, directly across busy Richmond Terrace from the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. Protesters were visible from the many buses departing from the ferry terminal – the demonstration began during the rush hour commute and large numbers of commuters stared out of the bus windows at the protesters. Some of the commuters flashed peace signs and others photographed the protest from inside the buses. A number of bus drivers honked their horns in response to protesters’ signs that read: “Honk For Peace – SDS”.
The large protest stretched across the facade of Borough Hall. Several activists wore orange prison jumpsuits, acouple with black hoods. Others held large placards that spelled out 3-0-0-0 D-E-A-D, one letter per sign. Activists held aloft bright green signs that demanded Bush “Stop The War” and “Shutdown Guantanamo”. Members of Students for a Democratic Society from several New York City chapters joined their non-student comrades from MDS and carried signs reading “How Many More Have To Die?”, “No More Torture, No More War” and “We Will Not Be Silent”.
Protest organizer Debra Anderson, a member of both Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) and Peace Action Staten Island has a personal investment in ending the Iraq War: her husband spent a year in Iraq, returning to the US in September of 2005. After 23 years in the National Guard he was deployed to Iraq (with the 1/69th Infantry, a Manhattan-based unit) through what many call Bush’s “backdoor draft”…the use of national guard and reserve units to fight an undeclared and illegal war. “My family has suffered enough as a result of the Iraq war. We are overdue for a new direction and I hope that our new congress does right by the people of the United States, the people of Iraq and our troops. Out of Iraq Now! Shut Down Guantanamo! OUR civil rights need to be restored. We demand our Democracy back……we deserve our dignity back”, Anderson said.
Elaine Brower, an organizer with World Can’t Wait, also has personal ties to the war. Her son James, a marine who fought in Fallujah, returned to the US this past October. “It is time that our ‘elected’ officials pay attention to the citizens’ demands in this Country. November 7th people voted against George W. Bush’s policies and against the Iraq war! Our Government is ignoring this fact, so we demand to be heard. Extraordinary Rendition, Torture, Wars of Aggression, the Military Commissions Act, and illegal wire taps, are just a few examples of how not only our Constitutional rights have been openly and blatantly violated, but a direct violation of the Geneva Conventions has been perpetrated by this Administration and any individual who approves this is complicit. We know of at least 500 prisoners languishing in Guantanamo Bay without representation for over 5 years,” said Brower.
About 45 minutes into the demo SDS and WCW organizers and activists moved onto the center median strip on Richmond Terrace and a concrete island at the entrance to the Ferry Terminal in order to engage commuters face to face. Despite very windy conditions and cold temperatures the protesters were animated and the response from the commuters was very supportive. Around 8 pm the protest was ended and organizers reported that they were pleased with both the turnout and the enthusiasm of those in attendance .
“I was very pleased to see so many MDSers turn out as, unlike the student chapters in SDS, our part of the organization is still in its infancy,” said Tom Good an organizer with the Staten Island MDS Chapter. “It clearly shows that people are fed up with the US government and its failed policy of endless lies, torture and war,” he added. MDS is the non-student (graduates and workers) part of Students for a Democratic Society. MDS organizing is primarily community based whereas SDS is most active on campuses.
Debra Anderson noted: “The response from the community either from the people walking by, cars and buses coming out from the SI ferry terminal who were honking their horns, shouting out in support, giving us the thumbs up, shows to me that Staten Islanders do not support a continuation or escalation of the war in Iraq or a deployment of more troops.”
Devra Morice, a Staten Islander and member of SDS/MDS’ John Brown Caucus, an anti-imperialist formation, said: “The strong turnout today both here and around the country, is further proof that the American people do not and will not tolerate torture, lies, or an escalation to this war. We’re speaking as one and our voice is clear – the war must end now.”
Protests on Staten Island and around the country are expected to continue, according to the organizers.