Monday, November 14, 2005

''All in the Family''

"Returning soldiers and their spouses, parents, and children are the backbone of the antiwar movement spreading today in the United States. And they're speaking louder than ever. CARLOS ARREDONDO, a wiry man with expansive gestures, circles the Cambridge Common, handing out copies of letters his son Alexander wrote in January 2003 as he shipped out for his first tour of duty in Iraq. "I feel so lucky to be blessed with the chance to defend my country 6 months after I joined the military," Alexander writes to his brother. To his parents: "I am not afraid of dying. I am more afraid of what will happen to all the ones that I love if something happens to me." He had enlisted in the Marines at 17, just before beginning his senior year in high school at Blue Hills Regional Technical School in Canton, and left for training days after graduation. On August 25, 2004, Alexander Arredondo was killed in Najaf, Iraq. He was 20 years old.

When the Marines came to inform Arredondo of his son's death and stayed after he asked them to leave, he set their van on fire, burning over a quarter of his body in the process. Carlos comes from Costa Rica - a country, he notes, with no standing army. He says that he translates from Spanish in his head before speaking and explains that only now have he and his doctors decided he's well enough to speak publicly. (He's a quick study: A week later, he says, "I know how to spell in two languages, `impeach'.") Now, he repeats his story to all comers: to honor his son, he explains, and to stop the war and save other families such anguish. "Everyone's story is difficult," observes his wife, Melida Arredondo. "Ours just got more coverage."

The Arredondos are in Cambridge as members of Military Families Speak Out, a national non-partisan organization of people who have relatives in the military and who oppose the war in Iraq. It was started by labor activists Nancy Lessin and her husband, Charley Richardson, from their Jamaica Plain home in November 2002, when Richardson's son, Joe, then in the Marines, learned he might be sent to Iraq. (Joe now works in the private sector in the Washington, D.C., area.) MFSO has grown in three years to include some 2,600 families from every state. Its membership, according to Lessin, mirrors the working-class makeup and racial mix of the military - about two-thirds white and one-third people of color. MFSO is one of the four loosely affiliated, military-related groups sponsoring the Bring Them Home Now bus tour that began in Crawford, Texas, as Cindy Sheehan ended her August encampment near President Bush's ranch there.

The four groups - MFSO, Gold Star Families for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and Veterans for Peace - exhibit all the variety and jumble of grass-roots organizations: You join by filling out a form and become active mostly by showing up. But, for the moment, they share clear political goals: End the war in Iraq immediately, take care of soldiers on their return, and never again letAmerica embark on an insupportable war. This afternoon, this whistle-stop tour to 51 cities in 28 states is coming to Cambridge before convening in Washington, D.C., for a large antiwar march. Carlos Arredondo, who lives in Roslindale, is part of the group gathered for a welcoming rally.

The day is swampy for September, the buses are late, and the crowd is more middle-aged than young. (Someone suggests that kids involved in antiwar work make Web sites, not rallies.) One woman waves an American flag, and a couple of local politicians work the crowd. Near the stage, a group of women begins to sing, and the close harmonies of "Ain't gonna study war no more" float into the air.

Deja vu aside, it may not be your father's war, but it is your father's - and sister's, son's, and lover's - protest. The Bring Them Home Now campaign is respectful of soldiers, unabashedly steeped in love of country, eloquent in its ordinariness, and, like the Vietnam War protests, tailored to its historical moment. It is an antiwar movement by way of family values, and that often gives it startling symbolic and rhetorical power."-excerpted from the commentary in the Boston Globe by Nan Levinson, via Greg Mitchell, who is the editor of Editor&Publisher, says, It's Your War Now : "The nation's newspapers helped President Bush sell the war in Iraq. Now, three years and more than 2000 lost American lives later, their editorial pages refuse to advocate a major change in direction, even with 60% of the public urging the beginning of a pullout."-via The Smirking Chimp.

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