At noon, over 120 community members met at Veteran’s Park at 19th & Louisiana to stand in solidarity with soldiers, students, Iraqis, and all other people resisting war. With bullhorns, banners, and gigantic puppets, members rallied at the park and then marched to the complex of military recruitment centers at 23rd & Louisiana.
“We’re here today to raise political consciousness and get others to do the same,” said Carl Webb, a black, Marxist, military deserter and member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. “We want everyone to come out, protest, and organize at a grassroots level to end war.” Webb spoke at the rally alongside Haskell Indian Nations University professor Julia Goodfox and Kansas Mutual Aid collective members Joe Carr and Jordan Ferrand-Sapsis.
The KC Iraq Task Force set up an emotional display called “Eyes Wide Open.” Army boots and sneakers were laid out across the lawn, each representing a Kansas military service person or Iraqi civilian who has died in the Iraq war. Ten black coffins, made of cardboard and marked with phrases like “this is the cost of war,” were placed behind the display.
At 12:45, a majority of the rally marched south on Louisiana street and congregated at the military recruitment centers. Belinda Peñaloza, media spokesperson for the demonstration, explained why the demonstration targeted the recruitment centers. “Military recruiters in Lawrence prey upon the poor, youth, and people color and we are sick of the way new soldiers are being enlisted,” said Peñaloza. “We don’t want one more person sent overseas to die in this horrible war.”
At the recruitment center, demonstrators were met with an overwhelming police presence. Around 75 officers were stationed in a variety of locations, including a prisoner transport vehicle and the chief of police who is the head of this area’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. Dozens of officers lined the property of the shopping center, many equipped with gas masks and pepper spray. Anytime a protester stepped a foot off the public easement, police immediately threatened them with arrest.
Despite police intimidation, a handful of protesters successfully blocked the entrance to the center by stacking the coffins in the road. The coffins were immediately removed by police and recruiters, who destroyed them by violently stomping and ripping them apart.
Demonstrators left the recruitment center at around 1:30pm and marched back to Veteran’s Park, where the protest was concluded. Overall, the march was perceived as a success by organizers and participants. People from across Kansas and several other states came to participate. Everyone left the march physically safe despite the overwhelming police presence.
The action was part of a long-standing campaign against military recruitment in Lawrence. These specific centers have been the target of repeated demonstrations, including two that involved arrests and successful shutdowns.
As they left today, the crowd chanted, “we’ll be back!” And they likely will.