Yemeni activists and supporters demand end to ‘War on Yemen’ on global day of action following a teach-in by CDSA

Yemeni activists and supporters gathered with various organizations in Federal Plaza in Chicago on Monday to demand an end to the war in Yemen. (Leonna McAfee/MEDILL)

By Leonna McAfee
Medill Reports

Dozens of activists from the women’s peace group CODEPINK, Chicago Area Peace Action, Chicago Democratic Socialists of America, and Chicago Committee against War and Racism rallied in downtown Chicago at Federal Plaza on Monday evening, demanding the Biden administration move forward with policies that will end the war in Yemen during his first 100 days in office. 

The rally in the frigid cold was part of a global day of action, with demonstrations taking place across the country — including in New York, New Jersey; and San Francisco — while the former U.K. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and actor and activist Danny Glover headlined an online rally. Supporters took to social media to show their solidarity by using hashtags such as #YemenCantWait and #WorldSaysNo to war on Yemen. 

The United Nations has called the Yemen war the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The U.S.-Saudi-led military coalition and blockade of Yemen by Houthi rebels has killed more than 200,000 people and devastated the country. Yemen is mired in a brutal civil war between the Iranian-backed Yemeni Houthis and its Saudi Arabian-backed, internationally recognized government since 2014.

Protesters carry signs that describe the impact the war has had on Yemeni civilians. (Leonna McAfee/MEDILL)

The Chicago Democratic Socialists of America held a virtual teach-in on Saturday leading up to the rally that featured Yemeni guest speakers and activists calling for an end to U.S. support of the Saudi-United Arab Emirates coalition’s military war in Yemen.

“There is now 16 million people living on the brink of famine in Yemen, millions of cases of cholera— it is the worst place to be a child,” said teach-in guest speaker Hassan El-Tayyab, legislative manager for Middle East policy with Friends Committee on National Legislation, or FCNL.

“COVID-19 is devastating the country, it has one of the highest fatality rates in the word,” El-Tayyab said. “Fifty percent of the hospitals have either been closed or don’t have full access to medical supplies.”

More than 3.6 million people have been forced to flee their homes and 24 million are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, according to the United Nations. Yemen relies on international aid for 90% of its food supply, but the war has destroyed public infrastructure and services, such as hospitals and schools, blocking access to humanitarian aid.

“Every bombing in Yemen kills the hearts and souls of the people that live there,” said Nancy of SouthWest Asian North African Chicago. Nancy asked that her last name not be used. (Leonna McAfee/MEDILL)

The United States, long-term allies with Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have provided arms to the Saudis in addition to other military, political and logistical support in the war against the Houthis.

Danaka Katovich, Yemen campaign coordinator for CODEPINK: Women for Peace, wants a stop to all U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen. CODEPINK is a women-initiated grassroots peace and social justice movement working to end U.S.-funded wars and occupations.

“I would like to see the Biden administration end all U.S. support for the war in Yemen and end arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition,” Katovich said. “The Saudi-UAE coalition has attacked and bombed civilians, weddings and funerals. We also want to restore all humanitarian and food aid to Yemen, including the USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) assistance, that was cut by President (Donald) Trump at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Danaka Katovich, 21, demands during a Monday rally in Chicago an end to U.S. support of the war in Yemen that has killed and injured thousands. (Leonna McAfee/MEDILL)

Afrah Nasser, a Yemen researcher in the Middle East and North Africa Division at the Human Rights Watch and second guest speaker at Saturday’s teach-in, said the hardest part of this crisis to her is that civilians have been deliberately targeted.

“The U.S. is complicit in so many war crimes and human rights abuses in Yemen,” Nasser said. “The Human Rights Watch has documented at least 25 unlawful airstrikes done with U.S.-made weapons, and it is so disappointing that today there has been no credible investigation.”

“This is what my family and friends are living with — it’s heartbreaking.”

Nasser added that only 20% of resources Yemen needs has made it into the country because of a blockade and obstruction of humanitarian aid by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

The rally offered solidarity with tens of thousands of Yemenis who marched in the capital city of Sanaa on Monday to protest the U.S. designation of the Houthis as a terrorist group by former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and American support for the Saudi-led coalition.

The Biden administration said earlier Monday it has suspended some terrorism sanctions on Yemen’s Houthis rebels and authorized financial transactions to allow the flow of humanitarian aid.

Also on Monday, tens of thousands of Yemenis marched in the capital city of Sanaa to protest the U.S. designation of the Houthis as a terrorist group by Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and American support for the Saudi-led coalition.

The Biden administration said on Monday it has suspended some terrorism sanctions on Yemen’s Houthis rebels and authorized financial transactions to let aid flow.

Katovich says the best ways to get involved is to follow Yemeni organizations and activists on social media, donate to organizations that provides aid directly to civilians, such as the Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation and to call representatives and ask them to support a new War Powers Resolution for Yemen and to block any new arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

“The best way really to help millions of civilians in Yemen is to question your officials, congressmen and ask why they’re supporting such destructive policies in Yemen,” Nassar said. “That is one of the best ways to help civilians.”

Protester Ali Mohamed waves Yemeni flag at Federal Plaza in downtown Chicago on Jan. 25, 2021. (Leonna McAfee/MEDILL)

Leonna McAfee covers social justice, environment and culture at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @leemcafe.