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Fayetteville peace rally March 17 closes a gap

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March. Advent of spring. Set the clocks ahead for Daylight Savings Time this week. And in two weeks, another ritual: The anniversary of the American-led invasion of Iraq.

Yes, the occupation—the war—continues after four terrible years. It didn't end with the November elections, and it's not ending now. But let's face it, ending the war—even if you're a committed peacenik—is not going to get you to Fayetteville for the "Peace March & Rally" on Saturday, March 17.

Because 1,000 folks in Fayetteville, or even 2,000, aren't going to end the war or slow it down even.

So why bother?

Two reasons, says Chuck Fager, who directs Quaker House in Fayetteville, host organization for the event. One is because Fayetteville needs you to be there. The second is for you: Have you been to Fort Bragg lately?

Because of Bragg and nearby Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Fager says Fayetteville is a military—and wholly "militarized"—town. What's that mean? It means that when an Army couple, Capt. James McLin and wife, Catherine, put an antiwar sign in their yard recently, somebody stole it and sprayed the word "TERRORIST" on their house. Then, after James—an Army counselor—was sent away for training before his deployment to Iraq, some anonymous coward sent Catherine a 1970 newspaper clip about the firebombing of the original Quaker House.

It means, moreover, that although there's "unease" among the troops, as indicated by an Army Times poll on the war, it goes mostly unspoken in a place where free speech isn't just undefended by the military, it's actively repressed to the point that people need to be reminded that they can still think for themselves.

Says Fager: "We are in a sense reminding the people in charge that this freedom they say they're fighting for has content."

And then the second reason.

When I interviewed Fager, he was in Raleigh drumming up support, and I said something about the long drive from Fayetteville. "The distance is much longer from Raleigh to Fayetteville than it is from Fayetteville to Raleigh," he answered quickly.

The people in Fayetteville know Raleigh, was Fager's point, with all our Research Triangle prosperity. But the converse ain't true at all. We comfy Crabtree shoppers don't care to dwell on the war, so Fayetteville might as well be in Idaho.

"There's a real and increasing gap between the military in America and the rest of America," Fager says. "I'm hardly the first one to notice it, but I've watched it deepen over the years, and it's a very dangerous tendency."

Chuck Fager is military, sort of. His father was career Air Force, a bomber pilot, and he was himself in the Air Force ROTC at Colorado State until he quit in his senior year of '63 to join the Civil Rights Movement. Then, as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War assigned to the Quakers, he was at the meeting in '65 ("a minor functionary") when Dr. King and others determined to oppose the war, notwithstanding King's understanding that it would split the movement and turn many Americans against them.

Ever since, Fager's seen peace groups denounced as hippies who hate the troops. Just as bad, he's seen middle-class, progressive white folk ignore the military even as lower-income families, especially African Americans, embraced it as their ticket out.

Now, in four anniversary peace rallies since the March 2003 invasion, Fager's labored hard to convince Fayetteville that the antiwar side is with the troops, not against them, and wants to "bring them home now" because it's on their side.

It doesn't help, though, when he goes fundraising to an (unnamed) Quaker college in the Midwest—tuition $35K a year—and finds not a single veteran nor anyone who knows a veteran. Well, it's Quaker, right? No, in the next state over there's a Quaker school—tuition $22K—and it's got quite a few students who are veterans or do know some.

"It's class, not race," Fager says. "The demographics of the military are more and more unrepresentative of the public, not in terms of black-white, but income." He adds: "I may be stereotyping Independent readers, but I think they are largely folks who would do well to get in touch with a military community that's been balkanized."

I'll say this. The few times I've been to Fayetteville—and the last time was for the '05 rally, when 3,000 or more showed up—I've been struck by how the presence of a huge military base in your community does not translate into good jobs or economic development. It's worth thinking about how much of our military budget is not just wasteful but destructive in every sense of that word. But when was the last time you heard even a progressive public official raise the subject of military spending? When was the last time you raised it?

Oh, and the scandal at Walter Reed? It's "just the tip of the iceberg" of what goes wrong when progressive Americans turn their back on the military and leave it to the generals, Fager says. "Americans want ceremonial, structured relations with the military, but we do not like to be confronted with the human cost of it all."

Lots of good speakers and entertainers at the rally. See www.fayetteville-peace-rally.org for details. Fager will speak at Pullen Baptist Church in Raleigh on Sunday, March 11, potluck dinner at 6 p.m., www.triangletikkun.org.

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