Iraq Turns Four: To Rock or Protest?

Sheehan, Stipe join Iraqi woman and Iraq War vet at antiwar concert

Cindy Sheehan backstage at the Bring 'Em Home Now concert at the Hammerstein Ballroom.
(photo: Sarah Ferguson)

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Monday night offered at least one reason why street demonstrations in New York marking the third anniversary of the Iraq war were smaller this year.

The real action was at the party, specifically, the "Bring 'Em Home Now!" concert at Manhattan's Hammerstein Ballroom, where a sold-out crowd of 3,000 rocked out with Michael Stipe, Fischerspooner, Steve Earle, Moby, Bright Eyes, and raunchy rapper Peaches, and listened to antiwar speeches by Susan Sarandon, Chuck D., and Cindy Sheehan.

Sheehan was introduced by Sarandon, who is in talks to play the peace mom in a movie. Dressed in poofy brown skirt and matching sweater, Sheehan joked about being a rock star for the antiwar movement and got a bit jiggy as she led the crowd in a rap of her own: "Violence and occupation do not bring liberation! That's Bullshit! Get off it! This war is for profit!" chanted Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed battling insurgents in Baghdad's Sadr City two years ago.

Sheehan also spoke about being arrested earlier this month while trying to deliver a petition to the U.S. mission to the United Nations in midtown. "Nobody can tell us where a free speech zone is," Sheehan declared. "Everywhere we stand is a free speech zone."

Art rocker Casey Spooner of Fischerspooner roused the house by marching onstage in Revolutionary War garb to perform the duo's satirical track "We Need A War," and Rufus Wainwright belted out a soulful "Over the Rainbow," which he dedicated to Sheehan. Later in the night, Bright Eyes delivered their scathing anti-Bush song "When the President Talks to God." But the voices that resonated most were those of an Iraqi woman and an Iraq war vet.

Dr. Entisar Mohammad Ariabi, a pharmacist at Yarmook Teaching Hospital in Baghdad, urged Americans to tell President Bush "your blood is more expensive then oil."

Speaking through a translator, Ariabi described living in the crosshairs of a U.S.-led occupation defined by civil strife, where ambulances, hospitals, schools, and mosques are bombed, and mothers like her fear each time their children leave home.

"I came here to speak to you because I've seen the pain of the injured who die because there isn't enough medicine and supplies," said Ariabi, who wore a simple hijab. "By the time the injured make it to the hospital they are dead because of the [military] checkpoints. A lot of people die because they cannot get to the hospitals fast enough."

Later, former National Guard sergeant Geoffrey Millard told of his five-day trek from Mobile, Alabama to New Orleans with other members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, and the devastation he witnessed there.

"I signed up to be a civilian soldier. I signed up to help my community, and because I was and I am still a patriot," Millard said. "But my First Ammendemt rights aren't being trampled by Al Qaeda. Saddam Hussein never tapped my phone. Right now, the enemies of the constitution are domestic. As Malcolm X said, it's time to stop sitting and start standing." The mostly white, mostly middle class crowd cheered.

The concert was organized to raise funds for Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, and Gold Star Families for Peace, who have been touring the country to speak out against the war and American-led occupation.

(Tickets were $28-$35, though some paid $150 to hobnob with Sheehan and other VIPs like Julia Stiles, Ed Norton, Mike Myers, and Joaquin Phoenix. )

"We need to find new ways to combine and art and politics to say dissent doesn't have to be just coming out to demonstrations on the street," said writer Anthony Arnove, who helped organize the show and is currently on a book tour with Sheehan.

The concert was one of many events planned this week to mark the anniversary of the war, and the presence of performers not already synonymous with the antiwar cause speaks to how much dissent is out there.

Earlier in the night, Darryl "DMC" McDaniels of Run-DMC fame joined antiwar activists in the unveiling of a new antiwar postage stamp featuring a yellow ribbon transposed over a peace symbol.

The fully legit stamp was designed by Andrew Boyd, one of the founders of the spoof group Billionaires for Bush, who said he got the idea from online sites that allow people to create their own stamps.

The stamps cost a dollar each, with proceeds going to fund the vets and military families on the "Bring 'Em Home Now!" tour. You can buy them here.

Perfect for mailing petitions to Congress or posting your tax returns, Boyd said.


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