A small cluster of protestors gathered in central Harlem Sunday to mark the 11th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, the longest in American history.
“We’re here today to give voice to our opposition to the wars abroad and the wars here at home,” said Nellie Bailey, of the United National Antiwar Coalition.
The U.S. has lost 2,126 soldiers, the Pentagon says, with an additional 17,684 wounded in action since Operation Enduring Freedom began on Oct. 7, 2001. Operation Iraqi Freedom fatalities total 4,422.
The Department of Defense will spend $115 billion on overseas operations this year. “That money could be better spent here — infrastructure, health care, education, you name it,” Bailey said.
Cold temperatures and light rain loomed over the protesters gathered in front of the State Office Building on West 125th Street. Over 100 people, representing Muslim, immigrant, labor and antiwar groups, participated.
They held signs provided by the coalition, which formed in 2010 in Albany and received financial support from affiliated organizations. It also organized antiwar protests in other cities last weekend, including Los Angeles and Chicago.
“We decided to have it here in Harlem as a way of symbolizing the wars at home when we look at ‘stop and frisk’, police brutality, voter suppression,” Bailey said.
“Money for jobs and education! Not for war and occupation!” the protestors shouted, led by Lucy Pagoada, a high school teacher from Queens.
“I’ve been a teacher in the New York City Department of Education for 18 years, and I see that a lot of the services in education have been cut down,” she said. “The important things that we need here are not being taken care of because our tax money is going out for wars that we don’t support.”
Pagoada, a Honduran-American, is a member of the May 1st Coalition, which advocates for worker and immigrant rights. “We want peace, we don’t want war. We want education. We want jobs. We don’t want occupation, we don’t want our tax money to be going to war killing our brothers and sisters around the world,” Pagoada said.
As the afternoon became colder and darker, the crowd shrunk to about 50. In a bright yellow raincoat, Patricia Bozeman, took the microphone to sing for those who stayed. She had driven from Buffalo with several activist friends.
“You have too many innocent people getting killed, children, it saddens me… It has to end,” she said. “We need more people to get involved in this cause.”
Bozeman wrote her antiwar anthem in 2004, when Operation Enduring Freedom was 3 years old. “This is a rich man’s war. What is the poor man fighting for?” Bozeman sang. “We still got troops in Iraq. We got beef with Iran. We want our troops home now, not in Afghanistan.”