When Toby Hartbarger was an Army Specialist in Iraq, he says he went on patrol looking for bombs, manned checkpoints and conducted raids in Baghdad and other cities for 15 months ending in August 2004. The Muncie, Ind., resident observed the conditions of the Iraqi people he fought among while "looking at who was profiting from the war while [my] friends were dying.
"I lost my soul for the war and I'm trying to regain it," he said as he stood to protest in front of the military recruiting station on Forbes Avenue in Oakland on Oct. 7. He was one of a dozen people on a 24-city, two-month UPRISE counter-recruitment tour, which began Sept. 23, who joined the bi-weekly picket run by Pittsburgh Organizing Group (POG).
Hartbarger, 22, is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. He entered the Army in July 2002, after meeting a recruiter in high school. Why did he join? "Money for college. Get out of the house," he said. "It all happened pretty quickly."
Now he is traveling to colleges and high schools, concerts and rallies, to urge others to come out against the war -- without having to engage in firefights first.
"We had a lot of great responses with youth in particular," says Steve Mortillo of Pennington, N.J., another former Army Specialist, Iraq veteran and UPRISE tour member. "We're trying to link up groups and make connections."
Many of the groups are already connected to POG. "We actually draw a lot of inspiration from POG in their tactics," says a Cleveland counter-recruitment activist who goes by the nom de guerre of Tom Nomad. He says his group spent summer weekends picketing Cleveland recruiting centers in a similar fashion.
The next frontier in anti-war protests, says Local UPRISE participant David Meieran, is to counter corporate recruitment that serves the military-industrial complex, in Dwight Eisenhower's famous formulation. That goal is especially important for the Iraq War, in which many tasks usually undertaken by the military have been privatized.
But the movement continues to focus on the audience on which it can have the most direct influence: young people. UPRISE organizer Ryan Harvey, of Baltimore, writes protest songs with the Riot-Folk Collective and plays them on the tour. "You'll get people to come out to hear some music more than they'll come out to hear speakers," Harvey says.
Chad Rosenbloom, a 15-year-old freshman at Shadyside Academy in Fox Chapel, didn't come for the music.
"I read a lot of Noam Chomsky, but I've never really done anything, never really taken direct action," Rosenbloom said. After discovering POG on the Web, he found himself standing on the curb with a sign saying "Honk for Peace."
Protestors built a wall of boxes -- plastered with photos of the war and names of American war dead -- in front of the locked recruitment-center door. After the group began marching through Oakland, the door was once again spray-painted and smashed.
"People have been coming to me and saying they are against the war," said UPRISE member Toby Hartbarger. "That means nothing to me, because they'll go home and turn the TV on. The question we get a lot is, 'What can I do?' And they want something easy, like 'sign a petition' or 'go out and vote.' That's not what we need. We need a movement."