On July 1, 2007 I sought the support of regular Americans after receiving notification from the U.S. Air Force Reserve that they were threatening to discharge me on the basis of behavior that, in their words, is "clearly inconsistent with the interest of national security." The behavior in question is my outspoken opposition to the occupation of Iraq and the inadequate and inhuman response to the tragedy of Katrina.
As a result of the outpouring of support I received from all over the United States and from around the world, the Air Force backed down. Thanks to my brothers and sisters in the movement, I will end my service with the honorable discharge that I earned. I am eternally grateful, and evermore committed to taking on the powers that be for the powers that ought to be.
At first, when I informed the Air Force that I would fight their harassment, they threatened me with deployment to Iraq, or even prison time. Then with the tremendous circulation and widespread publishing of my first Open Letter, the Air Force realized if they were going to challenge me, they would have to challenge thousands of Americans from across the nation outside of Robbins Air Force Base in Georgia, on my hearing date.
Even now, after all the pain we have been through as a nation these last years, the reaction of the Air Force shows that when we are organized in the face of a government that does not represent us, we the people have the power.
Mine is the third case in which the military has backed down when the people have challenged their attempts to silence dissent. When former Sgt. Adam Kokesh spoke out after risking his life in Fallujah, Iraq, the U.S. Marines threatened him with a "less than honorable" discharge but backed down after many came out in support of Adam. When Marine Sgt. Liam Madden spoke out about this "war of aggression" in which war crimes were being committed, the Marines threatened him but again backed down when they saw organized opposition. The military now knows they will feel the wrath of the people if they threaten veterans who speak out against the occupation of Iraq.
The anti-war movement truly supported me in my case against the Air Force, which as a young African-American minister was so empowering to me personally that I pledge to increase my opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. I pledge to continue my work in solidarity with the Iraqi people who are resisting U.S. occupation. I will not let the media spin that portrays all Iraqi resistors as insurgents linked to Al Qaeda and other terrorists groups, silence my moral support for the good people in Iraq who are fighting to free their land.
Indeed, I have just returned from a trip to the Middle East where I visited with Iraqi refugees. As a person of color, I have no issue with my brothers and sisters in Iraq. I also have no issue with the U.S. troops who serve with honorable intentions and so often join the military under the poverty draft. My issue is with the Bush Administration and our co-dependent Congress.
These are the six ways I see to oppose the U.S. occupation of Iraq: 1. Speaking out and creating an echo chamber of opposition; 2. Participating in acts of civil disobedience; 3. Joining the economic boycott led by the Iraq Moratorium beginning September 21st; 4. Casting your vote at the polls; 5. Giving direct aid to humanitarian programs for Iraqi refugees and internally displaced; and, 6. Counter-recruiting campaigns.
All these methods become effective when a critical mass of people is mobilized. The anti-war movement in the U.S. has yet to reach that critical mass. The critical mass that is necessary to have a real anti-war movement can be achieved by mobilizing those who are most oppressed by the U.S. government. We must link the struggles of the oppressed in the U.S. and in Iraq.
The displaced Katrina survivors and the displaced Iraqis is a good place to start. But it must go deeper than that. Literally, the money that was supposed to go to levees in New Orleans was diverted to the war in Afghanistan. The money that is being spent to kill Brown people in Baghdad is being diverted from programs that educate Black people in the U.S. For example, for what the State of North Carolina has sacrificed in war spending in Iraq, they could have provided nearly 600,000 students four-year scholarships at public universities.
I pray that our movement finds the strength of character to listen to the very oppressed for whom we claim to speak, and let the voices, ideas and actions of the oppressed drive a movement that can finally grow to that critical mass.
For Future Generations, Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr.
Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr. is the President of the Hip Hop Caucus, www.hiphopcaucus.org. The Hip Hop Caucus is a national, nonprofit, non-partisan organization meant to inspire and motivate those of us born after the '60s civil rights movement. Rev. Yearwood is also a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, www.ivaw.org. Rev. Yearwood serves on the board of Voters For Peace, www.VotersForPeace.US.