Protesters rally near Obama’s home for troop homecoming

By SpencerRoush

For more than 40 years, a man who looks a bit like Mark Twain, whom he frequently impersonates, has protested U.S. foreign policy. Recently, he joined a march near President Barack Obama’s Hyde Park home to send him a message to bring the troops home from Afghanistan.

Richard Hensel, a longtime political activist, donned a large “Honk-4-Peace” sign attached to his backpack as he joined a rally of approximately 100 people to protest the war in Afghanistan on Oct. 3 at the corner of 53rd Street and Hyde Park Avenue.

Many of the speakers said they wanted to see an end to military expenditures and for money to be instead directed toward health care and school improvements.

“This is the first demonstration that was just about Afghanistan for years and years,” said Margaret Powers, a member of Peace Pledge-Chicago. “It was very important for us to bring people together. I think it unified a lot of anti-war activists in the city.”

This month is the eighth anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, and according to published news reports, Obama’s administration will be deciding within weeks about how to proceed. Some Republicans are asking for 40,000 more troops at Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s request and Democrats are asking for more alternatives.

The march near Obama’s house responded to McChrystal’s request of sending more troops, and the message protesters were sending was to bring all of the troops home.

The turnout for the protest was small, but the organizer still considered it a success because they were highly visible.

Powers said maybe their protest might inspire more people to re-energize the anti-war movement.

“There may be fewer people here than we would like,” Powers said to the crowd before the march began. “The only way there will be more is if those of us who are here see ourselves as prime organizers, who will go out and convince more people that yes, it matters, we can make a difference and we need to do that.”

Powers, who was an organizer for the protest along with coalition Bring the Troops Home NOW, said she thought marching near Obama’s house would have attracted more people to protest and also garner media attention, but that didn’t happen.

“It was a success, aside from the sound system, which was a bit of a disaster,” Powers said. “Everything else worked pretty well. I think we were very visible and colorful and all of that helped get our message across.”

Powers said she wished more people would have been interested and came to the protest, and was disappointed by the turnout. Other activists also acknowledged how small the group was at the protest, including Bill Zieske, who owns a law firm in the South Loop.

“I’m disappointed at how few people are here,” Zieske said. “A protest without media attention doesn’t really help a lot. I came out partly because of my disappointment in how little things have changed over the last nine months under Obama and partly because Afghanistan is the next war now, so even if we withdrew in Iraq, we would still be mired in Afghanistan. It really wouldn’t change anything.”

Zieske said that he hoped Obama would change the direction of the war, but so far he is following the previous administration, which is why it was important to protest in front of the president’s house.

“I think he made a lot of promises that he hasn’t made good on yet,” Zieske said. “Of course, it is early in his administration. His commitment on withdrawing from Iraq doesn’t mean a whole lot to me if he stays in Afghanistan and ramps up that war.”

Most of the speakers focused on the newest development in the war in Afghanistan, which is to send extra troops and ultimately spend more taxpayer money.

“Stanley McChrystal was in London on Monday talking about why the U.S. and NATO should send 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan to escalate the war,” said Aaron Hess, a political activist and member of a socialist group, at the rally to all of the protesters. “Bring all of the troops home now.”

Hess said the U.S. needs to change the framework of the debate and make peace an alternative to end the war. He said the American people should realize that the problems with U.S. foreign policy and imperialistic actions lie deeper than just one administration.

“It’s not just Afghanistan, it’s not a group of politicians and now we know it’s not just about George Bush,” Hess said. “It’s about the U.S. empire and both political parties.”