Walking to New Orleans: Veterans Arrive in Style

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(APN) NEW ORLEANS – Over 100 veterans and other activists who marched 150 miles along Highway 90 over 5 days from Mobile, Alabama, to New Orleans, Louisiana, arrived amidst cheering crowds today at Congo Square in New Orleans’s Armstrong Park for a huge rally. The rally lasted from 12pm to 5pm.

The Veterans Gulf March started in Alabama on March 14, 2006, and ended in New Orleans today. It was modeled after the famous civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery several decades ago. The arrival of the March in New Orleans was scheduled to coincide with the three year anniversary of the launch of the US Invasion of Iraq.

“Every bomb dropped on Iraq, explodes along the Gulf Coast,” the stage banner said.

“I signed up at age 17 to defend the US constitution,” for the military, “but this is the first time I feel that I’m protecting the constitution,”Geoff Millard, 25, US Army Sgt., said during his speech, in regards to his peace and justice activism.

Millard said he did not feel he was defending the US constitution while stationed in Iraq, and he thanked his “family”–meaning several of his fellow soldiers present–for being there for him.

The point of the rally was to oppose how Bush has ordered US troops over to Iraq when they ought to be in the US trying to protect and serve, David Cline, National President of the Veterans for Peace (VFP), the group which organized the march, explained.

“We were here before FEMA,” Cline said, of the response from Veterans for Peace to the people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Cline explained that VFP had been protesting in Texas at the time of Hurricane Katrina, but immediately redeployed with supplies.

People expressed they felt Bush had lied about the purpose of invading Iraq, and they opposed Bush having troops in Iraq.

However, the most important point was to make a direct connection between US policy in Iraq and the current neglect of New Orleans. “To help people connect the dots,” Ann Wright, an organizer and former US State Department official, said in a speech the day the March had left Mobile, according to an independent video clip (see below).

Activists said Bush was taking money from the Gulf Coast, especially Louisiana, and has been putting it toward the troops in Iraq, instead of spending it in the US after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Many organizations participated in the March, including Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), Veterans for Peace (VFP), Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out, Gold Star Families for Peace, Common Ground Collective, Save Ourselves (SOS), People’s Hurricane Relief Fund, and United Peace Relief. Hurricane evacuees also participated.

The rally, which featured 20 guest speakers, and attracted a crowd of about 500 people, was energetic and kept a lot of people going because of their anger about the war and the government’s failures before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina.

One speaker was a mother of a soldier who cried and said, “I want my son back!” She said her son had been in the army since he was 17 years old.

Amidst the blight and poverty still rampant throughout New Orleans, and amidst the drunken party scene in the French Quarter, the activist movement in New Orleans appeared to be thriving.

Malik Rahim, 58, the organizer of Common Ground Collective, a now-famous grassroots organization in New Orleans, which has served over 65,000 people since Hurricane Katrina, was on hand during the rally and gave a rousing speech.

“The government was doing nothing. This was a great movement of Blacks and Whites, to come together to make history,” Rahim told Atlanta Progressive News in an interview.

“King Wilkerson of the Angola Three came up with the name of this project. He was asking, what do we got to do to get people on track?” Rahim recalled.

The name Common Ground Collective refers to the need for the many diverse activists who fall under a progressive umbrella, to find “common ground.” It shouldn’t make a difference, “if I’m Black and you’re White, if he’s a Muslim and she’s a Jew, if you’re straight and I’m gay,” Rahim said.

Rahim told Atlanta Progressive News that the Collective began in his kitchen and started with $50 just days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.

Rahim said the first biggest donations included truckloads of supplies from the Veterans for Peace. Later donations came from activist Michael Moore.

“It is now estimated the invasion and occupation of Iraq may cost $2.65 trillion, in addition to the over 2,400 American troops killed and over 100,000 Iraqis killed,” according to the Veterans Gulf March website.

“The US government has erected bases that are like cities in mere months to continue this illegal war, but has dragged its feet and excluded the residents of the Gulf Coast from decision making on reconstruction after Hurricane Katrina,” according to the Veterans Gulf March website.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for Atlanta Progressive News.  He may be reached at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.

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