January 15, 2020

Protestors Seek “Diplomacy, Not War” with Iran

By Donald Gilpin

More than 200 protestors gathered for a “No War with Iran” rally at Hinds Plaza next to the Princeton Public Library on Saturday afternoon, January 11.

Under sunny skies with spring-like temperatures, 10 different speakers from political, academic, religious, and military communities addressed the crowd, many of whom carried signs or posters expressing anti-war sentiments.

Sponsored by the Princeton-based Coalition for Peace Action (CFPA), along with the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice (BRC), Muslims for Peace, and Indivisible Cranbury, the rally was a response to the January 3 drone killing of Major General Qasem Soleimani ordered by President Trump.

Protestors carried signs bearing such messages as “Diplomacy Not War,” “Trump Lies and People Die,” “Remove Trump,” Prevent WW III,” “No Imperial Presidency,” and more.

“Say No to War,” sang singer/songwriter Sharleen Leahey. “What are we gonna tell our children? When are we gonna end all this madness?” as the audience joined in on the chorus.

“What needs to happen now is serious engagement and diplomacy,” CFPA Executive Director the Rev. Robert Moore told the crowd. “We know that diplomacy works. It’s time to have diplomacy, not war with Iran.”

Though by Saturday a de-escalation in tensions between the two countries had taken place, Moore warned, “It’s not a permanent de-escalation. The factors that could lead to war are still there.” He went on to criticize the use of drones as weapons of assassination and claimed that the kinds of strikes that killed Soleimani are undermining the peace process in the Middle East.

Richard Moody, former fighter pilot for both the United States and the United Kingdom, provided further background on the “extremely distressing,” increasingly dangerous uses of armed drones. “Did Trump order this attack to distract the public from his impeachment?” Moody asked the gathering.

Moody went on to quote first Winston Churchill: “Jaw, jaw, jaw before war, war, war” and “War is the failure of diplomacy,” then Pete Seeger: “When will we ever learn?” from “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”

Zia Mian, physicist and co-director of Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security, also focused on the need for the U.S. to engage in real diplomacy as opposed to “you do what we say.” “The world has gotten the message that there’s no point in negotiating with the U.S. because they will not keep their end of the bargain,” Mian said.

He also said that the U.S. has to learn to treat other nations as equals; people have to learn to pay attention and realize that they cannot isolate themselves from their decisions; and that “change will not come by asking, but by making it.”

New Jersey Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker emphasized the need to continue to speak out for the sake of democracy. “We gather to raise our voices in protest, to make sure our opinions are heard because we are patriots,” he said.

“Here we go again,” said Zwicker who has spoken at many local rallies over the past few years. “How many times have we had to gather in the last three years to protest policies locking children in cages, to fight against climate change, or to impeach one of the most corrupt and incompetent presidents in history?” 

Zwicker went on to urge everyone to look ahead to the fall election. “Our weapon tomorrow is our vote,” he said. “November of this year is the single most important election of our lives. Make sure that every single person comes out and votes in the name of democracy, because that is what this election is about.”

Former Nassau County (Long Island) Democratic Party Vice Chairman Ali Mirza called for truth to prevail over the lies that come from media and government officials. “We are being lied to again like we were lied to in 2003 when we went to war against Iraq,” he said. “They know when they keep repeating the same lies, people start to believe them. Our job is to keep on telling the truth again and again. Let our voices be heard.” 

Mirza echoed earlier calls for diplomacy, not war. “I don’t want Iranians to die,” he said. “I don’t want Iraqis to die, or Americans to die. I want diplomacy to prevail.”

BRC Chief Activist Robt Seda-Schreiber commented on the possibility of war, the threat of a draft, and the risks to young people. “Our children are no longer safe,” he said. “They are indeed direct targets of this administration, Now we have a president who sees violence not as a last resort, not even as a potential option, but as an absolute necessity, as a way to bolster his image, improve his poll numbers, protect his real estate investments, foster relationships with tyrants, despots, and enemies of the state.”

The Rev. Lukata Mjumbe of the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church demanded that all faith leaders stand up for peace. “You cannot pray or teach about peace on Friday and not stand up and fight for peace on Saturday,” he said. “If you do not speak up in defense of peace you are not doing honor to your title or your community or your god.”

He continued, “We need to be lifting up our voices, making noise. We have to have real peace and real justice.”

Other speakers at the rally included Irene Etkin Goldman of the CFPA and the Jewish advocacy group J Street; Montgomery Township Mayor Sadaf Jaffer; and former UN official Sadim Lone.

“We were very pleased with the rally turnout, as well as the great quality of each of the talks and the music,” Moore said. “We hope it will lead to increased involvement in our Diplomacy, Not War with Iran Campaign, so we can really turn toward sustained, effective diplomacy as the proven way to prevent war with Iran.”