Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Follow LeftTurn:

Special Offer from PM Press

Now more than ever there is a vital need for radical ideas. In the four years since its founding - and on a mere shoestring - PM Press has risen to the formidable challenge of publishing and distributing knowledge and entertainment for the struggles ahead. With over 200 releases to date, they have published an impressive and stimulating array of literature, art, music, politics, and culture.

PM Press is offering readers of Left Turn a 10% discount on every purchase. In addition, they'll donate 10% of each purchase back to Left Turn to support the crucial voices of independent journalism. Simply enter the coupon code: Left Turn when shopping online or mention it when ordering by phone or email.

Click here for their online catalog.

Virginia Anti-War Coalition

Jen Lawhorne
Date Published: 
September 14, 2004

The national anti-war movement quickly fizzled like an out-of-shape runner at the beginning of a marathon. Huge turnouts at demonstrations before the invasion of Iraq dwindled to meek protests once the US-led occupation started.

Richmond, Virginia experienced nothing different than the rest of the country. The small city mobilized against the war before it started and on the weekend the invasion began, a passionately angry protest took the city streets in one of Richmond’s largest demonstrations ever, with more than 2,000 people. It was no small feat for this conservative “capital of the Confederacy” and one of the most militarized states in the country, home to the Pentagon, CIA, FBI and Norfolk, the world’s largest naval base.

Then everything died down. Popular outrage simmered. Like the rest of the country, Richmond organizers could not find a way to galvanize their city.

But once the resistance of the Iraqi people began, activists in Richmond could not ignore Iraq’s fervent battle to unravel empire’s grip on its land. As people read of Iraqis being ripped apart in Fallujah and coalition forces dying everyday, urgent phone calls were made, e-mails circulated and appeals for action sent out.

During a mid-May meeting, the Virginia Anti-War Coalition (VAWC) formed in response to the crisis in Iraq. A diverse representation of about a dozen groups from the city and state, VAWC involves people from the Richmond Peace Education Center, the DC Anti-War Network, Richmond Independent Media Center, the Progressive Muslim Network and the Defenders for Freedom, Justice and Equality, among others. A march was immediately planned and demands articulated.

“It was interesting to see how (VAWC) was initiated with a call put out by a couple of activists,” said Muna Hijazi, an organizer with the Richmond IMC. “What excited me was how quickly the call was responded to by a large number of groups and people in the city and state.”

Defenders member Phil Wilayto, a veteran of the movement against the Vietnam War and soldier-organizer said the time was right and the energy was there to support a large-scale mobilization.

“The anti-war movement in Virginia, like a lot of places, is usually dependent on young white activists in their teens and twenties and a lot of people from the movement in the 60’s,” he said. “(VAWC) made the serious effort to reach out to the African-American community and create slogans that sounded well with the working class.”

By connecting local issues to the war to open the gate for involvement from Richmond’s majority African-American populace, VAWC concentrated on forming a multinational, gender and class-conscious movement. Heads from across the gender, political, racial and class spectrum joined in a coalition of the willing that included: anarchists, pacifists, Marxists, the homeless, Arab Americans, African-Americans, family members of the military and working class activists. Women played the most significant roles in the heavy work that goes into organizing large demonstrations.

War profiteer

“The composition of VAWC reflects the challenges to make the anti-war movement as a whole broader,” Wilayto said.

The coalition planned a march for early July to reinvigorate the statewide movement, a slew of educational events and workshops and a campaign against war profiteer CACI, a company directly implicated in the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib. Activists set to work flyering and attracting media attention.

On July 3, nearly one thousand protesters rallied in Richmond to protest the phony transfer of power that occurred earlier in the week in Iraq while marching to demand real sovereignty for the people of Iraq, ending of the occupations of Iraq, Haiti, Afghanistan and Palestine, sending the troops home and money for jobs and human needs, not for war.

People traveled from other Virginia regions and activists from the DC Anti-War Network car-pooled to the afternoon rally at Monroe Park, Richmond’s people’s park.

Marching on a pretzel route through the city’s downtown, the demonstration paused in front of the Richmond Times-Dispatch building, a daily newspaper notorious for its right-wing war mongering; the state capitol to highlight regional participation and Richmond’s CACI offices. Haranguing the crowd from the back of a pick-up truck, most of the speakers were from local groups all connecting the local to the global.

Saladdin Muhammed of Black Workers for Justice waged class jihad on the microphone in front of the state capitol.

“There are thousands of people of working class and people of color communities who are forced to join the military for economic and educational reasons,” he said. “The military and the prison industrial complexes represent a major factor in absorbing the many young potential fighters who should be in the wars of the oppressed. They are languishing in jail and they are languishing in the military.”

The march ended on busy Broad Street, where people left shops to encourage the march with a cacophonous roar from car horns filling the streets. “The large turnout validates the view that the population is against the war,” Wilayto said. “To bring out a thousand people in a relatively conservative state is an indication that if the work is done then people are going to participate.”

VAWC organizers are not expecting the energy to die on July 3. By lining up a series of workshops on the prison and military industrial complexes, war tax resistance, non-violent resistance and a public forum on CACI before the march, organizers made sure there was plenty of activity to plug into.

First up is a public forum on CACI and the beginnings of a coordinated statewide campaign against CACI’s eight sites of operation in Virginia. The company earned more than $800 million in Defense Department contracts in 2003 and continues to win more contracts from the government despite its responsibility for the torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

“We’ve never taken on a campaign that is going to need to be so well planned with a lot of skills and resources going into it,” Hijazi said. “CACI and what it does, offering illegal and immoral services on a mercenary level, mirrors what this country does as it wages war to benefit the military industrial complex. It feels like you can trace what is wrong literally and philosophically with the US by looking at corporations like CACI.”


Jen Lawhorne is an indymedia writer and activist, currently traveling through the US and Mexico. Her next project involves producing a documentary about indocumentados in the US, the lives they leave behind in Mexico and the politics of immigration. You can contact her at [email protected].