Twenty years ago today, we launched an American folly second only to Vietnam. It’s hard to believe it’s been twenty years since terms like “shock and awe” and “weapons of mass destruction” were in every other headline. Twenty years since George W. Bush led the United States into a long war in Iraq, and told us “facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof — the smoking gun — that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.” The Bush Administration’s lies and deceptions in the wake of the horrific attacks on September 11th were enough for a traumatized populace to believe that invading Iraq and removing Saddam Hussein from power was justified.
It’s also been twenty years since millions of us went into the streets to protest and disrupt business as usual over George Bush’s illegal war and occupation of Iraq. Many of us in the anti-war movement have different memories and experiences from that time. Before and when the war launched, we built a lot of momentum with mass marches, protests at federal buildings, blocking traffic and sitting-in wherever made sense.
My first arrest ever was at anti-war in Iraq march in Washington D.C. in September 2002. That day, we tried to march to Vice-President Dick Cheney’s house when police illegally kettled and arrested hundreds of us at Freedom Plaza in D.C. (The irony of getting rounded up by police at a place called Freedom Plaza is not lost on me.)
That period of time changed my life, it’s when I became an organizer and disruptor of business as usual. During that time, I lived in Houston, TX and had worked on global justice, environmental and, eventually, anti-war causes.
About a year after the invasion, we organized against the war by disrupting corporate war profiteering in Houston (i.e. Halliburton, KBR). Houston was an epicenter of energy and logistics companies. Many of those companies had historically profited from both fossil fuel extraction and military conflict. Halliburton and its subsidiary at the time KBR (formerly known as Kellog Brown and Root) were both headquartered there and were choice targets for anti-corporate anti-war campaigns. Going after Halliburton was the perfect confluence of those three causes.
In places like Chicago, New York and Washington D.C., they held massive marches and civil disobedience every day after the war began. In San Francisco, Direct Action to Stop the War shutdown the city’s financial district (the second largest in the country) when the war started with mass action for days on end.
But in Houston, our marches were never mass enough and a very conservative culture steered people away from what they perceived as risky civil disobedience. Instead, we targeted the war profiteers by tying American political leaders to corporate profiteering and corruption in Iraq. We mobilized people both locally and nationally around that campaign. We were a solid crew of people that organized small protests, big actions and lots in between. There were no big orgs or paid staff, just scrappy activists wanting to stop the brutal horror of state violence.
Visible resistance on the street’s George Bush’s hometown combined with watchdogs and congressional investigations in Washington D.C. put Halliburton on the defensive. Eventually, they lost their contracts, but the war continued on.
The war took a terrible toll on Iraq and the Middle East at large. Despite removing a brutal dictator, I’ll never believe that the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, or its involvement anywhere else in the region, was a net win for the people there. Or in the U.S. for that matter. It was only a win for the politicians, and companies that profited from it.
As the US continues to fight a proxy war in Ukraine with money and equipment and prepare for war, it’s clear our leaders haven’t learned a damned thing.