Protesters take to Capitol steps to oppose Iran escalation

    Protesters outside the state Capitol building on Saturday, January 4, 2020 protesting the escalation of American military action with Iran. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

    Roughly 30 people gathered on the front steps of the Pennsylvania Capitol building Saturday to protest the threat of war with Iran.

    “I’m nearly past 30 and we’ve been at war for as long as I can remember,” Chris Thomas, a 28-year old Middletown resident said.

    Thomas is also a member of the Harrisburg chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, who organized the protest.

    The demonstration was in response to the Jan. 3 assassination of Iranian general Qassim Suleimani by an American drone strike in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq.

    Suleimani was the leader of an Iraninan military organization that arms allied militia groups throughout the Middle East and has been linked to American deaths.

    President Donald Trump ordered Suleimani’s killing, claiming that Suleimani was “plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel, but we caught him in the act and terminated him” to justify the attack. 

    How Pa. lawmakers responded to Trump’s airstrike that killed a top Iranian military leader

    Suleimani’s death was also preceded by an attack that killed an American contractor in December, and a siege of America’s Iraq embassy led by pro-Iranian groups.

    Iran has threatened retaliation for the death, while 3,500 American troops are preparing to deploy to the Middle East in response, according to the Washington Post.

    But media reports have questioned the risks faced by American personnel, while many at the protest were quick to cite the controversial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as the root of their distrust.

    Jesse Gantt, a candidate for Pennsylvania House in the 104th District, which includes northern Dauphin County, was one such skeptic.

    “I’m running for the House of Representatives because I will not be lied to again without my voice in opposition,” Gantt said.

    Some signs asked to “end the forever wars,” while speakers referenced the recently published “Afghanistan Papers” by the Post. 

    The Post laid out years of documents that showed American leadership under Democrats and Republicans misled the American people about the 19-year-old conflict that cost more than  100,000 lives and nearly $1 trillion in taxpayer money.

    Pointing to America’s involvement in the Middle East, Thomas asked: “What did it all get us?”

    Many protesters also wielded signs for Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has gained support for his stern anti-war message.

    His progressive message was embraced in chants among the demonstrators.

    Rallies were held elsewhere in the commonwealth, including in State College, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia.

    As the Harrisburg rally wound down, some protesters waved at passing cars from the steps. Passersby had kept a steady stream of honks for their large “no war with Iran” banner coming for most of the hour-long event.

    While some answered with a friendly horn blast, one driver held up their palm to block their view of the protesters and drove away.

    “I guess they want war,” one protester joked.