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Dozens in Chapel Hill Protest Hostilities With Iran

At Peace & Justice Plaza, local legacy continues

by: Thomas Hartwell,

CHAPEL HILL — Protestors gathered Wednesday, January 8 in downtown Chapel Hill to urge peace in the Middle East and an easing of the American military stance against Iran, about 18 hours after Iran launched missile strikes at American-occupied military bases in Iraq to retaliate for the United States’ killing of a top Iranian general.

Earlier in the morning, in their time zone, Iran launched ballistic missiles at military bases in Iraq where U.S. troops are housed, striking two bases with at least a dozen missiles, news organizations including the Washington Post and CNN reported Wednesday.

Initial U.S. reports stated that no American or Iraqi casualties resulted from Iran’s missile strikes Wednesday, a fact that President Donald Trump emphasized in his address to the nation Wednesday morning, shortly before the protestors in Chapel Hill assembled at noon.

“Politically, I do not support Iran, but I am opposed to war with them,” said one of the few dozen people gathered downtown on a clear, sunny day, some of them bundled up against temperatures in the low-50s.

Some protestors carried antiwar signs saying, “WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER” and “NO WAR ANYWHERE!” The crowd of people was unified in its message of promoting peace and opposing continued military escalation in the Middle East.

Iran’s missile strikes were in retaliation for the United States’ killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani on Friday, January 3, according to Iran’s top leaders. President Donald J. Trump authorized the killing of Soleimani and took credit soon after the American strike, saying the U.S. military had executed the strike “at my direction.”
A crowd of between 60 and 70 people gathered at the historic Peace and Justice Plaza outside downtown Chapel Hill’s post office and courthouse. Members of several local churches and local and regional chapters of organizations such as Veterans for Peace and the NAACP participated in the protest.  It was organized by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), the Triangle Branch of which was founded in 1935 by Charlotte Adams.

Wednesday’s antiwar protest, builds upon a legacy of pro-peace protests at Peace and Justice Plaza; the area in front of the historic downtown courthouse was the site of protests against the Vietnam War, including a weekly protest that ran continuously from 1968 to 1973.

Some of Wednesday’s participants had recently attended events in Raleigh and Durham protesting the recent military escalation between the United States and Iran. Others were pressuring their elected representatives, such as those from the “Tuesdays with Tillis” progressive but officially nonpartisan group that has gathered outside Senator Thom Tillis’ office every week since Trump’s election as president.

Video from the most recent “Tuesdays with Tillis” event (Jan. 7) shows participants carrying signs outside the senator’s Raleigh office that included the messages, “War Hurts the Innocent” and “Trump a threat to national security.”

Ruth Zalph, a WILPF member, addressed the group, linking America’s militant posture against Iran to control of oil in the world economy.

“Oil is 80 percent of the income of Iran… and we are preventing [sale] from happening by telling the other countries, ‘Don’t buy from Iran.’ This has got to stop. This is a war on the economy of Iran and a war on the people of Iran,” said Zalph.

According to The Telegraph, revenues from oil contributed to an estimated 80 percent of Iran’s public revenues in 2012. Oil revenues and other sectors of Iran’s economy were disrupted by U.S.-led sanctions and an international embargo that lasted from 2012 through 2016, when they were lifted in conjunction with the Iran Nuclear Deal signed during the Obama administration. President Trump took the United States out of the nuclear deal and has reimposed sanctions against Iran.

In an interview, Zalph called WILPF the “oldest peace organization in the world” and said she had been active in its past antiwar efforts.

“I was against the war in Iraq and felt that there were no weapons of mass destruction, and the truth came out.” Zalph pointed to military and civilian lives lost in Iraq since the 2003 invasion of the country by U.S. and coalition forces, and said, “the only ones who gained were the manufacturers of weapons.”

If she could speak to President Trump about the situation unfolding between the United States and Iran, Zalph would say, “Before you were elected, you said, ‘I’m against war. I want to stop all war.’ Well, prove it.”

Speaking to the crowd after Zalph was Anna Richards, who emphasized an economic message of peace and reorganizing national priorities. She decried the United States’ “war economy.”
“We in this country can’t afford food,” Richards said. “There are hungry people in Chapel Hill.”

Richards, who is president of the Chapel Hill–Carrboro NAACP branch, said that her words represented her own personal statement. But she said the NAACP and other groups were present to show solidarity with WILPF’s message of peace.

“I am a product of the Vietnam era, and we have been continuing to do the same things over again, and it is time for us to say, ‘No more war!’”

Richards’ last three words were taken up as a chant by the crowd, shouting across Franklin Street as passersby acknowledged the din or hurried on by, and as some passing cars honked at the gathered people and their signs.

Members of local groups and churches, including the Chapel Hill Friends Meeting (a Quaker congregation), Chapel Hill Unitarians, Binkley Baptist Church and Progressive Democrats of Orange County were among the participants in Wednesday’s protest.

One of WILPF’s organizers, Lucy Lewis, wore a pendant around her neck that was given to her by her mother, Jean Wagner, who was active in WILPF around the time of the inception of its Chapel Hill chapter and continued in advocacy for political prisoners, Lewis said, “including the Wilmington Ten.”

Words carved into the pendant around a flower read, “War is not healthy for children and other living things.”

“It’s the same message then, the same message now,” Lewis said. “She gave it to me shortly before she died. I wore it here today because it feels like she is with me in spirit.”

Lucy Lewis holds up a peace pendant that was given to her by her late mother, Jean Wagner, an activist and organizer. Lewis participates in antiwar activism as an organizer for WILPF, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

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