A nationwide civil disobedience campaign aiming to force the administration of President George W. Bush and the U.S. Congress to end the military occupation of Iraq is now in full swing.
More than 500 peace groups and justice organizations from all over the United States have joined the "Declaration of Peace," a week-long comprehensive campaign that calls for a prompt timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.
Those who signed the Declaration this week pledged to hold demonstrations, rallies, marches, and vigils in hundreds of cities across the country, which will continue until next Thursday.
The protests have started at a time when the campaign for upcoming Congressional elections is getting into top gear and many lawmakers are preparing to go back to their home states for six weeks of intense campaigning.
On Thursday, police in Washington, DC arrested more than 30 activists who tried to deliver copies of the Declaration to the Bush administration as part of their pledge to get involved in actions of civil disobedience.
Prominent among those arrested in front of the White House include Father Joseph Nangle, co-director of Franciscan Missions, James Winkler, general secretary of the United Methodist Church, and Leslie Cagan, national coordinator of the United for Peace and Justice activist group.
"The breath and depth of the actions taking place this week are a testament to the growing sentiment of the people of this country against the occupation of Iraq," said Cagan in a statement before her arrest.
"As citizens and people of faith, we must be our country’s conscience," added Reverend Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus, who was also arrested for taking part in the White House action.
Like Yearwood, scores of church leaders who have joined the antiwar campaign believe that their actions will give the government "the moral courage to set a firm deadline to end the occupation of Iraq."
Activists say they have organized more than 350 actions of civil disobedience in all parts of the country, including in unlikely places such as Lincoln, Nebraska; Fayetteville, North Carolina; Houston, Texas; Des Moines, Iowa; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Cincinnati, Ohio.
Though the campaign is heavily dominated by faith-based groups, many lawmakers, former military leaders, and veterans are also taking an active part in the protests.
"I have seen with my own eyes the human cost of this occupation," said Kelly Dougherty, cofounder of Iraq Veterans against the War. "It is my duty to my fellow soldiers to end the escalation of violence."
Though Democratic Party officials have made no call for participation in the demonstration, this week some lawmakers publicly endorsed the Declaration. They include Rep. Earl Blumenauer (OR), Danny Davis (IL), Sam Farr (CA), Chaka Fattah (PA), Barbara Lee (CA), John Lewis (GA), Jan Schakowsky (IL), and Lynn Woolsey (CA).
"As a participant in the civil rights movement, I have confronted violence with nonviolence. I have been arrested over 40 times. I have been beaten and left bloody in the streets to die," said Lewis after signing the Declaration.
"And what I came to realize is that our strongest weapons as a nation are not bombs and missiles," he added. "Our strongest defense is the power of our ideas. It is what we believe about democracy and respect for human dignity."
In addition to a prompt timetable for withdrawal of troops, the Declaration calls for "closure of bases; a peace process for security, reconstruction, and reconciliation; and a shift of funding for war to meeting human needs."
Signers of the Declaration said if their demands were not met by the administration and the Congress they would organize another round of civil disobedience actions beyond September.
Despite protests and growing criticism of the war, the Bush administration seems to be in no mood to set a deadline for troop withdrawal. Last week, the House of Representatives passed a motion backing the president’s handling of the war and rejecting a deadline for recalling US forces.
With the Senate having already rejected the troop withdrawal plan, the House motion was passed 256-153 on a party line vote.
Since the occupation of Iraq started in March 2003, more than 100,000 Iraqis have died as a direct or indirect result of the US military action and the subsequent suicidal attacks carried out by the forces of resistance, according to a team of independent researchers and academics.
The war has cost the United States billions of dollars and more than 2,690 human lives.