With a notable exception, the protests in hundreds of U.S. cities and towns on March 19 against the occupation of Iraq were smaller than those in 2003 and 2004. But in Fayetteville, North Carolina, a protest led by veterans and military families drew 4,000 people to the largest demonstration ever held in that military city. As they marched to Fayetteville's Rowan Street Park, the site of a similar rally against the war in Vietnam 34 years earlier, older men in faded jungle uniforms mingled with younger vets in desert camouflage.
Located just outside of Fort Bragg, home of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division and the Special Operations Command, Fayetteville is at the center of a growing wing of the peace movement led by veterans and military families, which is taking some of the strongest and most visible stands against the occupation of Iraq.
At the protest, Iraq war veterans Michael Hoffman and Kelly Dougherty said they felt the war they fought in is wrong and called for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. The two are spokespersons for Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), formed by six veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004. IVAW now has more than 150 veteran members and conducted its first national meeting on the day following the rally.
IVAW member and former Marine recruiter Jimmy Massey was one of several speakers who challenged the audience to counter military recruiting, especially in high schools. Before the protest, Massey appeared at events for high school students in Raleigh and Durham. Some of the groups who marched in Fayetteville are crafting plans to pressure school boards to make it easier for parents of military-aged students to prevent recruiters from gaining contact information about their children under provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act.
Another group at the forefront in Fayetteville was Military Families Speak Out (MFSO), an anti-Iraq war group made up of those with loved ones in the military. Formed in 2003, the group now has more than 2,000 members, according to co-founder Nancy Lessin. Members from as far away as Hawaii traveled to Fayetteville to attend the protest and strategize with other MFSO members.
MFSO members from Vermont organized a successful campaign this spring to pass resolutions in over 40 town meetings in Vermont calling for withdrawal of the state's National Guard troops from Iraq. Members in other states, including New York, Montana, Washington, Idaho, and Oregon are organizing similar campaigns.
Military family members argue that the use of local troops in Iraq deprives their communities of police officers, fire fighters, and other valuable public sector workers who make up a disproportionate number of National Guard troops. Their campaign aims to demonstrate to local officials that the war is a local as well as national issue.
Many of the organizations that participated in the Fayetteville rally are sponsors of the Bring Them Home Now! campaign, organized in 2003 following President Bush's challenge to the Iraqi resistance to “bring it on.”