At least 100 people gathered at the Wisconsin State Capitol this weekend to protest what they perceive to be an escalation into war with Iran.
Last Friday, President Donald Trump ordered an airstrike to kill Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.
Nine groups who helped organize Saturday’s strike against the assassination characterized the President’s actions as “illegal,” but speakers at the protest also took aim at the United States’ military complex.
Dave Schwab, a member of the Green Party, says that Trump was aided members of both parties who, quote, “handed him a loaded gun with the safety off” by passing a $738 billion defense spending bill for 2020 without restricting the use of military force in Iran.
“I think that most Americans are against these wars, and yet they’re stuck in a two-party trap which gives them no other option, and people just accept that, but I think people need to demand more and say, ‘If you’re going to continue giving trillions of dollars to kill people in the Middle East, then we’re just not going to vote for you’,” Schwab says.
In July, the House voted to pass an amendment from California Congressman Ro Khanna to the National Defense Authorization Act.
That amendment would have required congressional authorization for federal funds to be used for any military action in or against Iran, but it was shot down by a Republican-controlled Senate and President Trump.
All of Wisconsin’s U.S. Representatives, except Democrat Mark Pocan, voted to approve the spending bill last month.
A statement from Congressional Progressive Caucus last week, which is co-chaired by Congressman Pocan, pushed back against the airstrike, and said, quote, “Congress must make it clear that there is no congressional authority for war with Iran.”
Other speakers at Saturday’s rally in Madison called for politicians to divert military funding to health care and efforts to combat homelessness. Some protesters, such as Karissa Red Bear, called for a move away from capitalism entirely.
“I think we need to end U.S. imperialism and colonialism, and I think one of the ways we can do that is also empowering indigenous people and giving the land back.” Red Bear says. “Everything intersects with each other. Capitalism isn’t working [and] capitalism is born from colonialism, and so I think we need to shift toward socialism.”
Shaadie Ali spoke at the protest as a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. Ali says he believes the United States is already engaged in a kind of warfare with Iran through its sanctions.
“In the U.S. we describe it as just not trading with the country, but in reality it’s a lot more like siege warfare. What we’re talking about is preventing drugs from getting into these countries [and] we’re talking about [keeping] investors from being able to bring food into these countries,” Ali notes. “Obviously, yes, weapons are the things that are targeted, but when you talk about imposing sanctions on any company that does business with Iran, that has a ripple effect. So, then, investors begin to pull out and then trading stops. It’s hard.”
Ali also says the rhetoric justifying Soleimani’s assassination, such as the Pentagon’s claim that his killing was meant to prevent “future Iranian attack plans,” obscures the present harm U.S. actions are causing Iran.
“Sanctions are violence. [They absolutely are.] People are dying because of [sanctions], and just because you don’t have bombs being dropped, although you do, that doesn’t mean that it’s not warfare, and [that] it’s not aggression,” Ali says. “I was talking with a friend who has a lot of family still in Iran, and he was saying that one of his family friends that he grew up with just died because he wasn’t able to get cancer treatment. That’s not talked about in the U.S. — at all.”
Another speaker, Sepideh, is an Iranian-American who shared only her first name due to safety concerns, and has family living in Iran.
She says they had gotten so used to the ongoing possibility of war, that they never expected it could actually happen.
“It feels very surreal because for how many years now have we been on the brink of war with Iran through the Obama administration and now Trump, and so we’ve all kind of felt like ‘Oh, it’s never happening, this is never going to happen, we’ve got nothing to worry about,’ and now it actually feels like a pretty serious possibility,” Sepideh says.
Sepideh also emphasizes that Americans should know Iranian life is not that different from their own.
“The people of Iran are no different than the citizens of the United States. They go to school. They go to work. They go grocery shopping. They’re just people trying to live out their lives, and a lot of us are just sick of what the U.S. has been doing in Iran, and just hope for the safety of the people in Iran,” says Sepideh.
Over the weekend, more than 60 Iranians and Iranian-Americans were detained and questioned about their citizenship at the Peace Arch Border Crossing from Canada into Washington State.
Sepideh says that seeing how Iranians and Iranian-Americans are being racially profiled following Soleimani’s assassination has been “terrifying.”