Despite the biting cold, dozens of students, local activists, veterans and children gathered on the steps of the Rhode Island State House Saturday to tell leaders: “No War with Iran.”
Organized by R.I.-based peace groups including the Rhode Island Antiwar Committee and co-sponsored by the global-action-oriented Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition, the rally was part of a nationwide day of action to decry potential U.S. military involvement in the Middle East. “This event is a part of a global series of events to protest the unjust, unnecessary and dangerous war with Iran,” Brown War Watch member Tyler Barnes-Diana GS told The Herald. Brown War Watch is a University graduate student group which critiques U.S. military policy. “Most of the groups here believe that war is not a solution — it’s not reasonable or justified,” he added.
Tensions between the United States and Iran flared after a U.S. drone strike killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Iraq Jan. 3.
At the rally, chants of “Trump wants war, we want peace. U.S. out of the Middle East,” rang through the air. Sentiments such as fear of innocent lives lost in Iran, concern for the mental health of U.S. war veterans and anger for the disregard of climate change culminated in an urgent call for peace.
In addition to Brown War Watch and the Rhode Island Antiwar Committee, organizations represented included members of the Rhode Island Coalition of Peace, Code Pink and No Endless War or Excessive Militarism. Supporters of presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Tulsi Gabbard also stood with flyers to capture voters. “We did our best to get a variety of perspectives, with people from different organizations,” Barnes-Diana explained. “We have groups with diverse focuses come together in agreement about this particular conflict.”
Activist after activist stepped up to speak, many reflecting on the turbulent history of American involvement with the Middle East. “Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the United States has continually tried to bring Iran back under its influence using economic sanctions,” Satya Mohapatra, organizer of the A.N.S.W.E.R coalition, told the crowd. “The U.S. has been waging this war against Iran for a long time.”
Mohapatra later told The Herald that his efforts in the rally stemmed from his conviction that the power of coalition building and civic action can effect change. “Thousands of people are on the streets now, simultaneously taking part in this event,” he said of the network of nationwide anti-war rallies attempting to pressure the Trump administration to peacefully de-escalate mounting tensions. “It will put force on the politicians,” Mohapatra added.
While speakers such as Mohapatra expressed anger at the destabilization of Iran, others directed their concern more broadly at the U.S. government’s pursuit of international conflict over domestic prosperity. Terri Wright, a homemaker and writer from Providence, demanded “Where are America’s values?” in her address to the crowd.
Her calls for peace were personal: Wright has three brothers who have fought in active combat for the United States and witnessed firsthand the toll that war can have on veterans. There is “money to fight a war, but (not to) take care of our land and our people,” she observed, the crowd murmuring in agreement.
“War is not the answer. Take a good look around you — we are the offspring of war,” she told the crowd.
In conversation with The Herald, Wright offered a message to fellow Americans: “Put the guns down, put the violence away, love your neighbors because we can make this right.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Code Pink is a member of the Rhode Island Coalition of Peace, which Code Pink is not. A previous version of this article also stated that the Providence rally was organized by the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition. In fact, ANSWER called for the global No War with Iran day of action, but only co-sponsored and endorsed the R.I.-based event, which was led and organized by R.I.-based peace groups including the Rhode Island Antiwar Committee. The Herald regrets the errors.