In protest of the war and occupation in Iraq, peace activists across the country commenced an occupation of their own on Monday,
February 5. The action, called the Occupation Project, will consist of at least eight weeks of nonviolent civil disobedience, in
which protestors occupy their congressional representatives' offices, urging them to vote against continued funding of the Iraq War.
Specifically, Occupation Project participants are calling for politicians to pledge to vote against the 2007 Supplementary Spending
Bill, which allocates an additional $100 billion for military escalation in Iraq. The campaign is being organized by the
Chicago-based anti-war organization Voices for Creative Nonviolence (VCNV), and is backed by many other prominent groups, including
CODEPINK, United for Peace and Justice and Veterans for Peace.
"The U.S. war in Iraq has created a humanitarian catastrophe, with Iraqis forced to flee for safety to Jordan, only to be rejected
and forgotten by the international community," said VCNV co-coordinator Kathy Kelly, who recently returned from two months in Amman
Jordan, where she worked with Iraqi refugees. "We owe an obligation to Iraqis: to stop funding the war and to fully fund war
reparations to Iraq so they might be able to rebuild their country after these past 16 years of economic and military warfare."
Kelly was arrested Monday, along with ten other activists, in Senator John McCain's office. At the same time, eight other
"occupiers" were arrested in the offices of Senators Barack Obama and Dick Durbin in Chicago. Occupations of offices also began in
ten other states Monday, and will begin in at least ten more throughout the coming days. Occupying activists read the names of U.S.
servicepeople and Iraqi civilians who have died in Iraq, delivered framed photos of the dead to representatives' offices and carried
banners with slogans like, "Americans Want a Prez for Peace." Every office occupation will be
different: many will incorporate songs, artwork, prayer services and rituals of mourning, urging congresspeople and the public to
confront the sadness of the increasing death toll in Iraq-and the fact that their tax dollars are paying for it.
The project's focus on funding is key to its appeal to representatives. While government officials lead us to believe that military
spending goes toward sustaining and protecting the troops, it actually takes one to three years from the time money is allocated for
equipment to the time soldiers receive that equipment, according to a report by VCNV's Jeff Leys, based on information from the
Congressional Research Service. The government has the money it currently needs to provide for soldiers to withdraw safely from
Iraq; further funding means prolonging the war for years.
"Durbin says he will urge the president to end the war, but he continues to vote to fund it," said Laurie Hasbrook, who was arrested
while occupying Senator Durbin's office on Monday. "It's like me saying to my children, 'Here's ten dollars-don't spend it at
Hollywood Video.'" Even with a Democratic congress that disagrees with the direction that the war is headed, that direction won't
change until funding is cut, she said. In addition to pushing for representatives to vote against further military funding,
Occupation Project participants call for the introduction of bills to provide full healthcare benefits to soldiers and to fund
reconstruction efforts sponsored by international humanitarian relief organizations (not the U.S. military). Monies for these
efforts would be drawn from the existing U.S. military budget, according to Leys.
"As the debate continues over funding the Iraq war, let's not forget that the regular military budget-not including Iraq war
funding-is nearly 50 percent greater than it was in 2001 and that our country spends as much on its military as the rest of the
world combined," Leys said. "When will our country recommit itself to rebuilding the social contract with our people and with the
people of Iraq?"
The campaign will continue for at least two months, with the most crucial period being the weeks of March 5 and 12, when the House
Appropriations Committee will probably vote on the supplementary spending bill. Civil disobedience trainings are currently taking
place across the country to prepare for office occupations in the weeks to come. For more information or to sign up for an action,
check out www.vcnv.org.
Maya Schenwar is a Chicago-based freelance writer, a contributing editor for Punk Planet magazine and an editor for Publications
International. She has been published in Punk Planet, Conscious Choice, and In These Times magazines; as well as on Alternet,
Chicago Indy Media, the Alternative Press Review, and Common Dreams.