2009/03/23:Young activists speak out at 6-year anniversary of Iraq War

Young activists speak out at 6-year anniversary of Iraq War
By KAREN HOLLISH
Staff Writer
Published: Monday, March 23, 2009 11:05 AM CDT

HEALTHCARE, NOT WARFARE -- WITC pre-nursing student Nick Segner talked with Northland College adjunct professor April Dreeke about universal healthcare during Friday's peace vigil held in front of the Ashland Post Office. Karen Hollish/Staff Photo

Jeff Silbert's peace activism began decades ago, when his decorated World War II veteran father spoke out against the Vietnam War by his side.

But as the 59-year-old area resident clutched a cardboard sign that said "Jobs, yes; Afghan war, no" against the wind in front of the Ashland Post Office on Friday, he admitted that the years of protest have taken their toll.

"I think some of us older folks are getting tired," Silbert said.
That's why he was glad to learn how two of the area's younger activists, 26-year-old Xander Waters and 25-year-old Nick Segner, recently formed the Chequamegon Coalition for Peace and Justice. The small grassroots group has been hosting peace vigils on the third Friday of every month in keeping with the nationwide efforts of the Iraq Moratorium movement. This Friday's vigil, which came one day after the six-year anniversary of the United States' invasion of Iraq, attracted more than a dozen people, the majority of them the sort of younger folks Silbert hopes the peace movement can recruit.

While they set out to oppose U.S. military actions abroad, the group was also promoting the Healthcare, Not Warfare campaign started by the Progressive Democrats of America.

"We're pushing for something positive at the same time — a healthcare plan," said Segner, a pre-nursing student at WITC-Ashland and vice president of the student senate there. Segner encouraged passers-by to write a letter urging U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl to support H.R. 676, a single-payer, universal healthcare bill drafted by Rep. John Conyers of Michigan.


HEALTHCARE, NOT WARFARE -- WITC pre-nursing student Nick Segner talked with Northland College adjunct professor April Dreeke about universal healthcare during Friday's peace vigil held in front of the Ashland Post Office. Karen Hollish/Staff Photo



Neither Segner nor Waters, the coalition's core founders, can afford health insurance coverage, they said.

"There is this very blatant contradiction that we can go into somebody else's country and waste an unfathomable amount of resources and not even keep people healthy in our own country," Waters, who was out of town during Friday's vigil, said in a recent phone interview. "It's just too much to ignore for me."

Waters, who serves on the Ashland County Board, said he thinks that it's an appropriate time for citizens to step up and remind President Obama that they want the war to end.

He appreciates the local approach taken by the Iraq Moratorium movement, which organizes third-Friday protests in small towns and big cities across the country. In Wisconsin, according to the Iraq Moratorium Web site, peace groups meet in places like Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire, Elm Grove, Green Bay, Ripon and Sheboygan.

"That kind of spoke to me, too, because I have boarded a bus and gone to Washington, D.C., and we marched," Waters recalled. "But the people in Washington said, 'Oh, the crazies came to Washington, D.C. and said what they wanted to say and now they're gone, thank goodness!'

"This is a situation where people don't have to spend every last bit of their resources to go across the country, waste fossil fuels, say something and be forgotten," he continued. "This is a chance to say, 'You know, normal people in every one of these communities are saying this is a bunch of crap.'"

One of the people out Friday was Northland College freshman Rachel Carlson, a peace studies major currently enrolled in a class on the theories and practice of nonviolence. She was joined by her teacher, April Dreeke, and a half-dozen of her classmates. They were there to support the coalition and promote the nonviolent approaches to conflict resolution they've been learning about in school.

"There are just a lot better ways to go about solving conflicts than just starting a war," Carlson said.

One of the longtime peace activists in the group, Dave Kurki of Marengo, said he comes to vigils like this one because in part he's not sure what else he can do to express his dissent.

"People always say, 'It does no good to demonstrate,' you know?" Kurki said. "Well, it may not do any good, but it's worse to do nothing at all."

When Silbert had to excuse himself to go to another commitment, he handed off his sign to one of the younger demonstrators lining the sidewalk.

"Keep up the good work — rah, rah!" he said, playfully pumping his fist in the air. "Just think," he added sagely. "You'll be doing this 40 years from now."

The response from a young man in the group reflected the collective fear that the ongoing battles abroad won't end anytime soon.

"Who says we won't be doing this the whole next 40 years?" he asked.

But the more seasoned activists do hope the work of younger people like Waters and Segner will make a difference, said Steve Carlson of Trego, the northern Wisconsin coordinator of the Iraq Moratorium movement.

"They're young and they're full of energy, and that's who we need to make those changes; Obama demonstrated that in his campaign," Carlson said in a recent phone interview.

"So if you can mobilize young people, you can get a lot done," he added. "And nothing energizes older people like the presence and involvement of younger people."