Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Hundreds mark war's 5th anniversary with vigil

Daily Sound Photo: Janelle Holcombe


Hundreds of local residents marked the fifth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq last night with a candlelight vigil at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, where they lined the 1100 block of Anacapa Street and stood in silence.
The vigil was one of thousands like it around the country, many of which were organized by the Web site

Many who attended the vigil say they have long questioned the Bush Administration’s decision to go to war with Iraq, but as the American death toll nears 4,000 — yesterday’s count was 3,992 — and the nation’s economy twirls into a recession, they say the need for America’s withdrawal from the Middle East is more urgent than ever.
“The time to be polite is over,” said Robert Burke. “The time to offend the offensive is today.”
Burke said he is one of many who believed the president in 2003 when it was widely reported that Iraq posed a significant threat to America’s security. But he said the day for withdrawal is long overdue.
“I was just as convinced as every other person who got fooled,” he said. “The time for the war on terrorism to end is today.”
Lois Hamilton, an organizer of the event who also helped organize an anti-war march on March 15, said last night’s vigil was a drive by to link the war in Iraq to the nation’s struggling economy.
She said the U.S. spends $4,100 per day, per household on the war and the impacts of that are being seen at the local level, from crumbling infrastructure to struggling local and state economies that are being forced to make wide cuts to social programs and education.
“People need to know that this day was huge in our country’s history,” Hamilton said. “All of the good programs have been gutted.”
Before the participants lined Anacapa Street, they gathered at the Sunken Gardens where they listened to speeches and musical numbers.
Jane Mourer, who said she protested the Vietnam War in 1971 with a half a million other people in Washington D.C., said the vigil was needed to let people know in a peaceful way how they feel about the war.
“I think the event was beautiful,” she said. “It was from the heart and the soul. It was done with absolute support for our troops.”
Jairo Chavez was waiting along Anacapa Street to catch a bus to Carpinteria when the hundreds of candle-toting participants formed lines along the street.
Chavez said it’s nice to know so many people feel the same way he does about the war and the nation’s current administration.
“It’s a good scene,” Chavez said. “There’s a lot of people who think alike in this town. It’s really comforting.”
Chavez, 22, called the war “pointless.”
“To me, there are no benefits. It doesn’t help anyone back home, that’s for sure,” he said.
For Bob Handy, the national chair of the Veterans United for Truth and a U.S. Navy veteran who served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the anniversary marks a low-point in recent American history.
“I think that this is one of the saddest days in modern American history,” he said. “The American people are being lied to.”
While more than 200 people attended the vigil, Handy said given the gravity of the situation, he’s surprised there weren’t 10,000 people who cared enough to show up.
Malia Wieczorek said it’s a relief to see that the war hasn’t been pushed into the back of peoples’ minds, and hopes to see a more rowdy protest in the future.
Mourer said the saddest part of the war for her is that the U.S. invaded Iraq based on a false premise, continues to occupy that country and U.S. citizens can do little other than vote and speak out.
“All we can do is look up in the skies and pray for [the soldiers and Iraqis],” she said. “And hope the world will see that as Americans, we don’t approve.”