A coalition of Madison community peace organizations sponsored a tent encampment on Library Mall Saturday in an attempt to show what conditions are like in Middle East refugee camps.
Organizers also used the event to discuss U.S. foreign policy and the current situation with Afghanistan.
The coalition had organized the encampment, which lasted from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. The message of the encampment became even more relevant after the attacks, said Rae Vogeler, an organizer of the event.
'There has been terror around the world for a long time, and now that it's happening to our country, it's bringing it to light,' she said.
The encampment was a way to let people understand what it is like to be under siege, Vogeler said. Tents and tarps were set up to simulate the homes of refugees. Participants ate lentils, rice and apples for lunch without anything to drink. In an attempt to simulate an actual refugee camp, Vogeler said, the only water on site was contaminated.
Vogeler said she received no negative responses from anyone who walked by the encampment.
'[It is important to] put a human face on foreign policy,' she said. 'It's harder to hate this enemy when you see what this enemy looks like. ... It could be like you. ... It could be a child.'
Daniel Long, another participant, said he found it unfortunate that it took a direct attack on the United States for people to recognize there were injustices happening around the world.
'Many innocent civilians [in other countries] have died and the U.S. has decided not to do anything,' he said.
Volunteers handed out brochures during the encampment detailed 'Nations Under Siege.' According to the handout, more than 1 million civilians have died from lack of food, clean water and medicine as a result of U.S. and U.N. sanctions that have been imposed for 11 years.
Long said considering the U.S. government's history in foreign policy, 'the pretext that [an attack on Afghanistan would be] for humanitarian reasons is not true.'
'[What happened Sept. 11] was a tragedy that came out of a history of resentment that we have propagated from our brutality and military and economic intervention in other areas of the world,' Vogeler said.
Susan Nossal, a participant, said action against Afghanistan could potentially exacerbate the situation.
'I think [military action against Afghanistan] will not dispel feelings of resentment, but will make the U.S. even more unsafe,' Nossal said.
Nossal and Vogeler both said the media portrayed a narrow spectrum of perspectives, with very little coverage of opposition to President Bush. They said they were also disappointed in the position Congress has taken.
'It is very irresponsible for Congress to give over all that power to one man who will decide the fate of hundreds of thousands of innocent people,' Nossal said.
Nossal said she thought Bush's statement about wanting bin Laden 'Dead or Alive' was not appropriate. Bush's choice of words, she said, feeds into the profiling of Arab Americans, Muslims and other people of color and trivializes the meaning of war.
'To me, using the type of language that's used in movies ... is a mockery of the seriousness of the situation,' Nossal said.