Dedicated to Anthony Wagner, Iraq veteran who opposed and spoke out against the wars and occupations for empire. Anthony passed away just hours after marching on Wall Street with other veterans in support of Scott Olsen on November 3, 2011.
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I have found it difficult to write, as Anthony and I were good friends and spent many hours together, including all-nighters working on the video for the March 19th protest on the anniversary of the Iraq war, watching movies and documentaries on Netflix, struggling with the trauma and pain this system inflicted on so many of us, and kicking it deeply about resistance and revolution and the possibility of a future where people all across the world could live lives worthy of human beings.
I last saw Anthony on October 15th, the global day of protests for the Occupy Movement. It was the first time I had seen him in person in a while, since I had been involved in organizing things around the California prison hunger strike and working on my appeal, and the first time I had been out in the streets in a major demonstration since before my political prosecution, trial and imprisonment in the Cook County Jail last year. We both were amazed at how much had changed in the world since we last saw each other a few months earlier in the summer, and how inspiring it was to be able to be out in the streets in the mix of this profoundly exciting upsurge of resistance around major faultline contradictions that hold so much potential for liberation.
I’m proud to say that my last memory of being with Anthony was standing in the streets with him on that global day of occupation, and the night when the first tents when up at Occupy Chicago, standing with people all across the globe in determined struggle for a liberated future for all humanity.
I hope to be able to write more soon, it has been difficult… But as we here in Chicago have reflected and remembered about Anthony’s life, and as Sunsara Taylor beautifully voiced (in her statement here), what his life was about serves as a living example that millions of people should learn deeply from. In the hours before his passing, Anthony was marching on Wall Street with other veterans, refusing to be soldiers for this monstrous system and instead joining in the struggle against the crimes and injustices inflicted by this system, along with the massive outpouring of people who are stepping onto the stage of history in righteous rebellion, filled with hope and determination for a better world…
On the night of July 2, 2009, a Chicago Police Department “Mobile Strike Force” cornered 16-year-old Rakeem Nance in a dark alley on the West Side. Chicago’s Mobile Strike Force is a paramilitary unit lead by a Marine Lieutenant who commanded “counterinsurgency” operations in Fallujah, Iraq and is part of a militarized “surge” of police repression and intimidation in Chicago’s oppressed communities. Bringing home the bitter taste of what U.S. imperialism shoves down the throats of people from Iraq and Afghanistan to the streets of Chicago, Rakeem was shot in the back and executed in that West Side alley on that summer night.
Police allege that Rakeem was involved in breaking into a home, and that he supposedly aimed a gun at a police officer. Chicago PD Superintendent Jody Weiss claimed, “If you point a weapon at someone, they’re probably going to try to take his life,” and that Rakeem’s murder was justified. Following that logic, the people of Chicago being targeted by this paramilitary police urban warfare campaign would be fully justified in defending themselves with deadly force whenever the police come into their neighborhoods with weapons drawn; somehow I doubt that Mr. Weiss and the State’s Attorney would allow his justification to stand in such circumstances.
After the funeral, standing before the faces of far-too-many youth gunned down by the Chicago police, I spoke to several of Rakeem’s high school teachers. They adamantly wanted me and the world to know that Rakeem was nothing like he has been viciously portrayed by the police (and the media that think “journalism” involves unquestioningly parroting police propaganda). Rakeem always asked the most challenging questions, he enjoyed writing music and wanted to be a rapper, five of his friends had been killed and he was compelled to try to look out for his friends…
Rakeem was another promising young life brutally snuffed out by the enforcers of this capitalist system. Even if he was involved in some kind of break in (and claims of him pointing a gun at police while carrying armloads of items supposedly taken from a house they broke into is even more dubious), none of that justifies his execution by the police. What kind of system do we live in that upholds the value of private property over the lives of human beings? The same system that ordered police in New Orleans to “shoot to kill” anyone who attempted to take food and supplies to survive during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The same system that sends armed “surges” into the communities and homes of people from Fallujah to Chicago, to drop bombs on people’s homes from Kabul to Philadelphia, to execute the youth from Oakland to Baghdad, to snatch people off the streets in handcuffs and torture them from Abu Ghraib to John Burge’s precinct.
On May 21, World Can’t Wait Chicago held torture workshops at the “We Are Everywhere” Youth Summit at the Multicultural Arts School in Little Village – a high school that was built after fierce struggle in the community, including a group of Latina mothers waging a nineteen-day hunger strike demanding a new school for their children.
We started off the workshops by asking the students: “Are American lives more valuable than the lives of people around the world?” Resoundingly the students responded “no,” though many thought that the reality was that people around the world were treated as if they were worth less. This led directly into the topic of torture. Showing the video I produced for the May 28th National Day of Resistance to U.S. Torture, the students were shocked to see the images from Abu Ghraib, which many of them had not seen before and did not know about.
We then got into the question of how do people like those in the video end up there. Some though that it was because they committed crimes, or did something wrong. In order to show a direct example of how people were really rounded up and ended up in places like Abu Ghraib or Guantánamo, we asked the students if they would point out someone in the room who was in a gang. Some refused to point anyone out, even after being offered $500. But once one of the students was picked out and put into an orange jumpsuit and hood, they quickly named the name of someone else in the workshop, who was also brought before the class and put into a jumpsuit and hood.
We then explained how people like them were rounded up for bounties in Afghanistan, or picked up off the streets, or had the doors of their homes kicked open by soldiers with guns shouting in a language that they couldn’t understand, and placed in these same jumpsuits and hoods. How they were then chained to the floor of a military transport plane in diapers and flown to some unknown destination, while their families had no idea what had happened to them. And once they got off the plane, they would be subjected to various types of torture that the Bush regime ordered committed. We asked if any of the students had heard of waterboarding, and one replied, “Isn’t that like where they drip water on your forehead?” And we explained that unfortunately no, it was far more vicious than that—that people were tied down to a board, a towel placed over their face, and water continuously poured over them till they began to choke, and that medical personnel were standing nearby to cut open their throats and shove a tube into their windpipe to keep them alive for further torture. And nearly 100 people were documented to have died in U.S. custody during the war of terror carried out in the wake of 9/11.
After explaining some of the methods of torture used by the U.S., we had the kids take off their hoods and jumpsuits and explain how that experience made them feel. Most replied that it made them scared and sad. One compared it to feeling like being a slave. And that even that brief experience in a classroom was nothing compared to what people who were actually being tortured experienced. We then went on to discuss what should happened to people who committed torture. At first many of them said that the people who did it should also be tortured. But after discussing if its ever right to torture someone, they thought that the people who ordered and committed torture should be put in jail.
We then discussed the lies that military recruiters use to get people—including high school students like themselves—to join the military, and why it is that the U.S is waging imperialist wars and using torture around the world. Obama has refused to prosecute anyone for these crimes, he has refused to release the torture photos, he continues to keep Guantanamo open and recently expanded Bagram prison facilities, and continues to use military commissions and indefinite detention. We discussed why it is imperative that people get in the streets on May 28th to oppose torture being committed in their names and to demand prosecution of the war criminals in the Bush regime that ordered and carried out torture.
After the workshops, there were a number of great performances by the students, including hip-hop, spoken word, and dance. It was really a great opportunity to talk with the kids, and the teachers at the school were amazing as well. Very inspiring.