It’s hard to believe soon it will be seven years since 9-11. It is even harder to believe there are those who still think the attack was planned and executed by Iraqis and the reason we are in Iraq is “so they won’t attack us again.” Yet maybe it’s not so hard to believe after all, since people heard this administration’s repeated lies and misinformation over and over and the mainstream media reported the deception and misinformation repeatedly without question. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that falsehoods took root and have been harder to eradicate than the weeds in our gardens.

It sad to think we need to say it again and again. Iraq was not involved in 9-11. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Iraq was not and is not a threat to our security. The majority of Iraqis see U.S. troops as an occupying force despite the best intentions of those individuals who enlisted to serve our country and who have sacrificed so much.

Five years after the occupation began with the “Shock and Awe” bombing of Iraq, billions of dollars have been spent, oil prices have skyrocketed, hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost and the Iraqis still live in fear of violence, many without clean water and electricity. Today the economic costs of the occupation of Iraq are coming into focus as our local and state governments face massive budget cuts. Services for the neediest are shrinking and many of us dread the prospect of keeping warm this winter while oil companies rake in record profits and politicians keep talking of a continuing, costly U.S. presence in Iraq for years to come.

According to the National Priorities Project, taxpayers in Maine will pay $364.5 million for the president’s request for additional Iraq war spending in 2008 and 2009. For the same amount of money, 114,740 people could have been provided with health care for one year or 6,874 elementary school teachers could have been funded for one year or 559,655 homes could have been retrofitted with renewable energy sources.

For nearly six years those who saw through the lies and deceptions and feared the consequences have held vigils, chains of concern and rallies. Some of us have traveled on overnight buses to Washington and visited congressional offices in D.C. and locally. Many have signed petitions, called our congressional representatives and some have even been arrested. In 2006, many more went to the voting booths to make their voices heard and were disappointed when after a strong anti-war vote, Congress still failed to end the war in Iraq and to hold this administration accountable for the deception that led us into this war.

Some say that all the rallies petitions, calls, bus rides, arrests and even votes have been futile since the politicians seem not to have listened. But is it possible that too many have relied on politicians to do what is right and not enough people have been willing to trust their own wisdom and persistently and visibly make their voices heard?

Many people are focusing on the next election with the hope that a new administration will end the occupation of Iraq and use diplomacy to negotiate with Iran. Many of us look forward to that possibility, but also want to make sure we continue to build a multifaceted peace movement that can support and-or challenge the next administration and Congress to promote cooperation and diplomacy, reparations for the people of Iraq, support for veterans of this war and federal budget priorities that serve the needs of people and not primarily military contractors and large corporations.

The last six years remind us that true democracy, which represents most of us and not just the wealthy top 1 percent who control the majority of this country’s wealth, requires more than voting once every two or four years. A vibrant democracy representing the interests of the majority will only come about if ordinary citizens take the time from busy and stressful lives to stand up and show the power of our numbers and the clarity of our vision so that politicians of all stripes will know they will be held accountable for their misdeeds and for ignoring the needs of people here and around the world.

Without a strong peace movement, the military industrial complex with its well-funded lobbyists will continue to exert strong pressure on whichever candidates are elected to maintain the status quo. Come stand with us and make your voice heard. Join us at an “End the War. Build the Peace. Rebuild the Economy” rally from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. l3, at Paul Bunyan Park in Bangor and then let’s walk for peace to the Hammond Street Church, where at 3 p.m., WERU will present Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now, and one of the few journalists who has consistently presented the truth about Iraq and U.S. foreign policy.

Ilze Petersons works with the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine in Bangor.