09 October 2011

Anti-greed, anti-war passions merging in Burque protests

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—A guy walked up to me, informed me he was astrologer, and then told me the world was about to enter the Aquarian age of peace and cooperation. Hell, I thought we were supposed to have entered the Age of Aquarius 30 years ago and that it was the new Mayan epoch that was right around the corner, so I just nodded.

I had come to the demonstration in front of the UNM bookstore to call for an end to the war in Afghanistan, just like many others were doing Friday and Saturday to mark the 10th anniversary of the war. Even though it is costing U.S. taxpayers about $10 billion per month, the war has not appeared to concern too many Americans, who seemed focused instead on the deteriorating domestic economy. Then came the Occupation movement, which started more than three weeks ago as Occupy Wall Street in New York City and has since spread across the nation. The connections now seem increasingly clear: the costs of endless wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere and the Wall Street bailouts have been borne by average Americans, who have been rewarded with staggering rates of unemployment and poverty and a crumbling national infrastructure. Without the Occupation movement, I would have expected 30 to 40 people at the anti-war demonstration, but Saturday there were at least four times that number.

Unlike the more spontaneous Occupy Burque (Albuquerque) action that started a week ago, the anti-war demonstration was organized by a local coalition. At the risk of generalizing, the mostly white-haired organizers represented the local chapter of Veterans for Peace and the Albuquerque-based Stop the War Machine, while the younger organizers came from the local chapter of the ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition. Organizers for the Party for Socialism and Liberation, or PSL, an active member of the ANSWER steering committee, have been active in both the local occupation and in anti-war organizing.

Cooperation among different generations did not extend to different political ideologies as evidenced by a tongue-lashing an elderly woman gave to a young man holding a sign supporting the presidential candidacy of Ron Paul, a libertarian Republican.

The anti-war demo in front of the bookstore featured a “die-in,” a bit of street theater in which the recorded sounds of weapons firing were followed by participants collapsing and feigning death. Once resurrected, we assembled for a march east on Central Avenue to the rhythms of chants like “We are the 99%” and “Funding for schools. Not for war, what the hell is Congress for?”

At the Wells Fargo branch office on the corner of Richmond Drive, a smaller group of marchers entered the bank, walked through the lobby chanting to the dumfounded looks of the bank tellers and then quickly exited. A little further along, marchers were greeted by a pair of waiters who stepped outside their restaurant holding small fliers that read, “We are the 99%.” Similar gestures of support were also shown later by workers at fast-food restaurant.

The next bank on the route was Bank of America, which received $45 billion in taxpayer bailouts in 2008-09 and then brazenly announced earlier this month that it will charge debit-card users $5 per month, which prompted many customers to close out their accounts in protest. The good news for the BoA in Albuquerque Saturday was that the lobby of its branch office near Washington Street was closed, so irate protesters vented their outrage in a largely empty parking lot. By the time marchers reached the next open bank lobby, the Bank of Albuquerque near Jackson Street, the chant had changed to “Jail the bankers.”

The march then advanced to the Bank of the West branch office at the busy intersection of Central and San Mateo Boulevard, at which point I left, and then proceeded south to a Wal-mart store before doubling back to the university.

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