At the end of November, just before Obama announced the escalation of the Afghan War, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), with the help of World Can’t Wait, staged a unique and powerful protest at the Westlake Center in Seattle.
As a form of “street theater,” the veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, dressed in their military uniforms and pointing imaginary guns, stormed through the crowd, tossing other protesters – who were disguised as innocent civilians going about their business at the shopping mall – to the ground and arresting them.
The Seattle Post Intelligencer explains the reaction from the passers-by:
But many people were caught off-guard by the unorthodox scene… where lines of young kids waited their turn to ride the carousel and shoppers hurried by with their bags.
As the “soldiers” screamed profanities at the “civilians” on the ground, many frightened young children were asking their parents what was going on. Meanwhile, some adult shoppers walked by – seemingly oblivious to the freaky scene.
Dubbed “Operation First Casualty,” members of IVAW first carried out this unusual type of protest, which gives onlookers just a small taste of what war is like for ordinary Iraqis or Afghans, at various locations in New York City back in 2007. After getting significant media coverage, IVAW took their show to Washington, San Francisco, and to Denver during the Democratic National Convention.
Since I first heard of this idea, and saw pictures and videos of these actions, I thought they were a brilliant and shocking way to dramatize the ugly reality of war for the average American. They also provide great opportunities for those of us in the peace movement to work closely with veterans to resist the ongoing wars.
My only regret is that these types of protest cannot be more widespread. If ordinary people were simply to dress as soldiers and carry out this street theater, critics could legitimately argue that that they don’t really know what war is like. And I wonder if it would offend sympathetic veterans, who are or could potentially be our allies. Any thoughts?