Anit-War Protestors Urge Soldiers to Resist Deployment

Marking the seventh anniversary of the Iraq War, anti-war demonstrators marched on Hollywood Boulevard Saturday to protest the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Leading the march along Hollywood Boulevard from Vine Street to Grauman's Chinese Theatre were veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Holding hand-made flags representing Blackwater, Chase-Manhattan Bank, AIG, Exxon/Mobil, Chevron and Boeing, the veterans formed a sort of Wall Street Color Guard to call attention to corporate America's role in U.S. foreign policy.

Iraq War veteran Michael Prysner, a Founding Member of March Forward, an anti-war organization that is made up of veterans and service members, spoke at the rally connecting a soldier's service to their country as a service to corporate America.

"We are nothing more than muscle, thugs for the banks and Wall Street," he said. "They don't care about our lives, the lives of those overseas. They only care about profit."

Long-time peace activist, Vietnam veteran and author of "Born on the Fourth of July" Ron Kovic joined the veterans in their march. "I think Iraq was a terrible mistake," he said. "These young men and women deserve not to have their lives wasted. That's why we are here today."

Kovic was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in Vietnam, as well as the Purple Heart for an injury that left him paralyzed at the waist. "I'm very proud of my service to my country, and most proud of my commitment to non-violence," he said.

Speaking for the veterans present at the demonstration, Kovic said that they love their country despite their criticisms. "The people who came out today are proud and passionate," he said. "This is the best of democracy. This is what my sacrifice was about, to assemble peacefully and non-violently."

Blase Bonpane, KPFK radio host and Director of Office of the Americas, an international justice and peace organization, spoke at the demonstration encouraging soldiers to resist their orders to deploy. He said 50,000 soldiers have refused to go overseas, and though difficult, hundreds have gone public about it.

"This is how the war in Vietnam ended," he said. "Soldiers realized they were lied to and resisted."

For Bonpane, he sees the Iraq War as being 19 years old. "I was there in 1991," he said. "It was a massacre and it hasn't stopped."

Kovic led the crowd in a sit-in where demonstrators halted the march and sat in the street. He held two-minutes of silence in honor of those who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"This is a movement of compassion and caring that respects all life," he said to the crowd. "We will continue to sit in greater and greater numbers in the streets until these wars are ended."

Present in the demonstration were two candidates for public office that have aligned themselves with the anti-war movement.

Richard Castaldo is running against Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) for the Peace and Freedom Party. Castaldo, paralyzed at the waist from gunshot wounds suffered in the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, said he got involved in politics because of the war and Wall Street bailouts.

"I feel, as a nation, we could be doing a lot better," he said.

If elected, Castaldo said, his first objective would be to work against corporate influence in Washington.

Long Beach mayoral candidate Stevie Merino was also present at the demonstration. Merino, 21, is a student at Cerritos College. She is running against incumbent Mayor Bob Foster for the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

She finds the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan a hindrance to public education. "We need to stop funding wars and start funding people's needs," she said. "Education is a right, not a privilege for a select few."

The demonstration began around noon and ended shortly after 3:30 p.m. LAPD on site said there was no trouble or arrests connected to the march and rally. The Los Angeles demonstration was held in conjunction with protests in San Francisco and Washington, D.C.