Numerous anti-war organizations and thousands of demonstrators in Chicago have publicly denounced the Iraq war. But leaders of a local African American group feel their communities haven't been served by the war or represented in the anti-war effort.
On May 3, two days after President George W. Bush announced victory in Iraq, about 100 people gathered for a "teach-in" organized by the Black Mobilization Committee Against the War at Fernwood United Methodist Church, 10057 S. Wallace St.
The leaders urged participants to mobilize against the war, which they maintain has just begun. They worry that military spending will hurt programs that benefit blacks, who, they believe, are recruited for war more heavily than anyone else.
"What happened in Iraq is a sin and an abomination," said Lewis Myers, a Chicago attorney. "Black people are the soul and conscience in this country, and if we don't speak out in our communities, no one will."
The group has been conducting teach-ins since March, after several people approached Myers about what they viewed as a lack of black representation in anti-war protests, despite polls indicating that most African Americans opposed the war.
Organizers say the teach-ins are intended to educate the black community about potentially detrimental results of the "ongoing" war, and to develop ways to respond to them, including voter registration drives. They said they expected only 20 people the first week, but nearly 200 showed up, and since then more than 100 people have attended each week.
"Our goal is to build an informed electorate," said the Rev. Al Sampson of Fernwood. "We have to educate our people so that our young people will not go to war and be used as cannon fodder."
Committee members predict that more troops will be deployed to the Middle East and Africa. "Our children are going to be called upon to go over there," Myers said.
African Americans, who make up about 12 percent of the U.S. population, account for 20 percent of the country's total military personnel and 15 percent of those in combat roles, according to the U.S. census and Department of Defense.
Organizer Doris Lewis, 58, a Hyde Park resident and guidance counselor with the Chicago Public Schools, believes resources are being diverted to fund the war. "The black community would suffer the most in terms of programs being cut," she said.
Though the federal budget for the 2004 fiscal year, passed in May, increases spending for the departments of defense, education, and health and human services, Democrats have charged that it doesn't adequately fund domestic programs.
Oscar Worrill, 52, a South Shore resident, has been an active part of the group since April. He said U.S. foreign policy is deflecting the attention of the black community away from other social ills. "The war is in the streets of the inner cities of America, where young black kids are dying every day over nothing," he said.
Michael McConnell, regional director of the American Friends Service Committee, believes the war hurt both the "most vulnerable" and the middle class, and he doesn't think the anti-war effort should be racially divided.
While McConnell said the Iraq war prompted a broader cross-section of the population to speak out than he's seen in his 13 years with the international peace organization, he noted that most who attended anti-war rallies were white. "The war is not seen as a major issue [for blacks], perhaps because they face more economic concerns and issues such as gangs."
Dorris M. Roberts, president of the Southside Branch of the NAACP, is not affiliated with the Black Mobilization Committee, but sees a need "for every type of progressive movement that can be generated in the black community–"we seem to be losing ground in things that we've accomplished."