Jonesborough Justice

By David Swanson

Of the eleven major peace rallies organized around the country by United for Peace and Justice last Saturday the smallest and most unusual took place in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Jonesborough is a town of about 4,000 people in the northeast corner of Tennessee, within a couple of dozen miles of both Virginia and North Carolina. The people of Jonesborough can imagine the number of U.S. troops who have died in Iraq by imagining their entire local population dead.

Rallying for peace and justice in Jonesborough is something of an act of reclamation, and it’s about time it happened. Jonesborough is the oldest town in Tennessee and was a center of the abolition movement. But, as if to offer a perfect illustration of the wisdom of the nation’s founding fathers’ distaste for political parties, the people of eastern Tennessee have largely stood by the Republican Party as it has mutated into the party of racism and militarism. Our rally of about 400 peace activists on Saturday was greeted by about 50 pro-war activists revving their Harleys, honking their horns, and screaming their vicious messages of hate with the utmost vein-popping fury.

Also in attendance were a couple of hundred representatives of local, county, and state law enforcement, police vans, trailers, and a circling helicopter. While the pro-death contingent was left more or less in peace, the nonviolent peace demonstrators were each fully searched and metal-detectored as they entered a downtown park for a rally. (I discussed the fourth amendment with a few different police officers to no avail, and the local organizers supported the police policy).

As photos of the event show, when we left the rally to march through town, the state troopers guided us away from Main Street, and down a back road. A total of two town residents were observed observing our march. The troopers marched with us at 10 foot intervals, and kept everyone to one half of the empty road. (When some of us took up the whole width of the road, we were admonished by local activists who believed it their duty to obey state trooper orders, no matter how absurd).

So, there was an attitude of subservience just beginning to crack in Jonesborough, but following the march we drove out to a factory that produced Depleted Uranium weapons. This was an important place to protest, and it helped to put a new issue into the Tennessee news, even if the local paper’s reporting was THIS lousy:

The pro-death contingent shouted from the closest possible fence when I and others were speaking at the rally. The organizers, rightly I think, chose not to engage them, and their moronic chants served to enliven rather than drown out the event. My speech may read as pretty ordinary but I think the video is livelier as a result of the conflict. The video of my speech is already up, and I hope all the others will be up soon at

I hope Tyler Westbrook posts a video of the entire rally, because the combination of speakers (and musicians) was – I thought – outstanding. George Friday of UFPJ served as the MC. Caren Neile, director of the South Florida storytelling project, spoke in the tradition of Jonesborough’s storytelling culture and told the story of Lysistrata. Tim Pluta, a victim of Depleted Uranium poisoning and an Airforce Specialist who was discharged as a Conscientious Objector, recited a poem told from the point of view of a D.U. molecule – absolutely brilliant! Russell Kincaid, a nuclear physicist, explained to us what the danger of Depleted Uranium is. Leila al-Imad, a professor of middle eastern history, put our government’s current actions in context. Chris Lugo of the Nashville Peace Coalition, and a Green Party candidate for the U.S. Senate from Tennessee, spoke about local activism. And Herbert Reed, an Iraq Vet and D.U. victim who has suffered terribly from the poisoning and led efforts to hold the military accountable, told his tale. A good AP article about what happened to him is here and should be more widely known:

The people of Jonesborough deserve a full reawakening of their culture of justice activism, and a better representative in Washington than Congressman David Davis. Let’s hope that United for Peace and Justice has lit a spark.

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