Group calls for troop withdrawal

300 sign petition that was delivered to the congressional delegation

Posted: Thursday, December 08, 2005

Local peace activists delivered a petition to the congressional office on Wednesday calling for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

About 300 people signed the petition, said Judith Maier, a member of Juneau People for Peace and Justice.

Preceding delivery of the petition, about 70 people participated in a Juneau rally to protest the Iraq war. The activists who gathered in front of the Federal Building downtown during lunchtime hoisted signs with peace slogans and made speeches about bringing troops home.

"Today our effort was to inform local people about the action we are taking and to open a dialogue with our congressional delegation," Maier said.

In a conference call to Rep. Don Young's Washington office, a dozen protesters read their messages to the congressman's aide.

"I'm not the type of person who makes signs and goes to rallies," activist Claire Richardson said. "But I really think that by staying silent I'm becoming part of the problem."

Young's legislative director, Charles Cogar, said his boss appreciates protesters' comments, but Young does not share their view of the war.

"He believes the work being done there is important and we should stay and finish the job," said Cogar later in the day.

Elliott Bundy, a spokesman for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she also supports having troops in Iraq until the mission is complete.

The activists also decried appropriations in a federal budget set aside for military bases to built in Iraq. They saw the funding as a gesture to keep troops in the Middle East long-term.

While Young does not sit on a military appropriations committee, Cogar said the planned bases are for temporary use and that the congressman does not support an extended occupation of Iraq. Cogar added that Young will support a withdrawal plan that focuses on accomplishments, rather than one with a timetable.

The hour-and-a-half rally finished without any disturbances. Two bystanders approached the group to challenge members' views.

"Freedom does not come cheap," one woman shouted to the protesters. "You people ought to be ashamed of yourselves."

A man also argued that the troops in the Middle East are there to protect freedom in America.

"If you were in Iraq, you wouldn't be able to do this," he said.

Rick Bellagh responded to him by saying, "Do you think it's responsible to send people over there into certain death?"

Several veterans attended the event in support of the rally and one protester has a son stationed in Iraq.

"I'm proud of him being there, but I'm not proud of the country that sent him there," Rich Moniak said. "Personally, I don't think war was the right answer in the first place."

The activists complimented Young and Murkowski for their recent work on opposing certain components of the Patriot Act.

In a statement, Murkowski said she wants to strike a balance between law enforcement and civil liberties in a reauthorization of the act.

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