This article was originally posted on the website of March Forward! an organization for anti-war veterans and active-duty service members.
Since the Occupy movement started, veterans and active-duty troops in March Forward! have been active organizers and participants in cities all over the country. Our members have been attacked by police, pepper sprayed and arrested at occupations and actions. We have been speaking, camping and helping organize at Occupy events from coast to coast.
We believe that it is essential for our community to be active in this movement, and call on all veterans and GIs to join the encampment nearest you.
Here is why we are participating:
1. We are used as pawns in Wall Street’s wars. Over 6,000 of our brothers and sisters are dead; tens of thousands maimed; hundreds of thousands will live the rest of their lives with psychological trauma. Over 1 million Iraqis have been killed, along with tens of thousands of innocent Afghans. The past 10 years have been nothing but constant, repeated deployments to wars waged in the interests of the 1%.
We are fighting wars that were sold to the public by Wall Street—by the banks, Big Oil and defense contractors. The millionaire politicians who provided the political cover have long been exposed as lying to us and our families about why we must go to war. We are expected to believe it’s just a coincidence that the wars are in the most resource-rich, profitable regions of the world, which were off-limits to Wall Street. It is only the rich who benefit from these wars, while we suffer because of them.
Polls show that two-thirds of the American public oppose the war in Afghanistan, a war that only benefits Wall Street, yet Washington has been clear that there is no end in sight. The wars cost tax payers over $800 million every single day, while we desperately need those funds here at home. These unpopular wars will only end from pressure from below, with veterans and active-duty troops leading the way.
The only occupations that are in our interests are the occupations here in cities and towns across the United States.
2. The U.S. government has refused to address the epidemic of suicides and the crisis in mental health. For the third year in a row, more active-duty troops are dying from suicide than combat. And it’s getting worse. 2011 is breaking all the records for suicide numbers. This is not a difficult problem to fix: Stop deploying troops with PTSD; provide quality, adequate care; and provide ample disability compensation.
But this government has allowed it to become an emergency situation, with hundreds needlessly dead. Of course, “there’s not enough money,” as they say. There is plenty of money for multi-billion-dollar contracts with the defense industry, but when it comes to our lives, we get abuse, neglect and mere scraps from the table.
3. Unemployment for Iraq and Afghanistan vets is at least 30 percent. Despite what recruiters tell us to lure young people into the military, we are statistically less likely to be able to find employment after serving in the military. Our unemployment rate is triple the official national average. We desperately need jobs programs. If the banks can get trillions in bailouts from our tax dollars, there is enough money to bailout veterans as well.
4. Veterans experience a high rate of homelessness. In 2010, over 75,000 Iraq and Afghanistan vets were homeless. In that same year, over 20,000 active-duty troops had their homes taken away by the banks. One out of every four homeless people are veterans.
Once we come home, this government cares nothing about us. Politicians “support the troops” when they’re sending us to war, but have no money to provide simple services to struggling vets once we get home.
5. The benefits for which we risked life and limb are on the chopping block. Those receiving the touted post-9/11 GI Bill had a rude awakening last month when we discovered that “break pay” was eliminated. The Marine Corps just cut its tuition assistance program by 80 percent. Even retirement pensions are on the line.
This makes one thing clear: In addition to lack of funding for vital social services, the benefits for which we risk our lives can be taken away at any time. Meanwhile, the 1%, who do nothing but go on vacation, are immune from the slightest increase in taxes.
6. Iraqis and Afghans are part of the 99%, just like us. Here at home, we suffer at the hands of Wall Street. But Wall Street's tentacles are spread across the entire globe. Especially hard hit are poor countries mired in deep poverty. Wall Street uses the Pentagon generals and politicians to do its bidding and attack these poor countries with war, sanctions, embargoes, bombings and occupations.
Most affected today are the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, who never did anything to us. Their crime is living atop massive reserves of natural resources, in countries that refused to be plundered by the U.S. bankers and billionaires.
We know firsthand that the people of those countries are just like us: They want to work for a living, provide for their families, have access to education, pursue their dreams and live stable lives in peace. Wall Street and the Pentagon are responsible for their conditions. We have far more in common with the people of Iraq and Afghanistan than we do with the millionaire politicians and billionaire bankers who tell us we must go to war. We must take a stand for our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Afghanistan, too.
7. Our only enemies are on Wall Street. A recent study found that 78 percent of U.S. troop casualties in Afghanistan are from poor and working-class communities. The reason is no mystery. When the economic crisis hit in 2007 and 2008, the U.S. military had a record-setting number of new recruits.
We are young people who could not afford to go to college, and students with loan debt. We are fathers and mothers who want to provide a decent home and health care for our children. We are workers who could not find jobs.
Many of us are also people who believed in our hearts what we were taught our entire lives about the U.S. military fighting for “freedom” and “democracy,” but we have learned that we just went to war to conquer new markets for big banks and corporations.
Our enemies are not other poor and struggling families thousands of miles away. Our enemies are the bankers on Wall Street and the politicians in Washington. They are ones who laid us off, raised our tuition, foreclosed our homes, denied us health care, and sent us to kill and die in wars based on lies.
We are occupying across the United States because this government has proven that it is in the pocket of Wall Street fat cats and cares nothing about our lives or the lives of workers in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
We are taking it upon ourselves to organize together, fight together, and win true justice and democracy together. Join us! Click here if you are a veteran or active-duty GI who supports the Occupy movement!