Speaking out on October 26
“It was time to add our voice”
November 1, 2002 | Pages 6 and 7
NO TO Bush’s war on Iraq! That message rang out at huge protests at both ends of the country last weekend–and in smaller demonstrations across the U.S. More than 100,000 people turned out October 26 in Washington, D.C., for the first national demonstration against the Bush gang’s drive for a new war on Iraq. As many as 75,000 gathered in San Francisco that same day. And in other cities–from Augusta, Maine, to Denver to Seattle–dozens and hundreds and thousands came together for protests.
All told, these were some of the largest antiwar demonstrations in the U.S. since Vietnam. ELIZABETH SCHULTE and TODD CHRETIEN report on this milestone for the antiwar movement.
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“I’M OVERWHELMED.” Those were the words of a longtime activist who organized for the protest in San Francisco last weekend. “I went to my union meeting last week, and the two shop stewards who usually aren’t very political were already discussing if we should march as a group wearing our union jackets.”
On the other side of the continent, Josh Greene helped to organize a group of people from Boone, N.C., to come to their first antiwar protest. “I’ve done stuff in my hometown, but never something on the international front,” he said. “Internationally, there’s a feeling that this is wrong. In the mountains of North Carolina and the Greater Appalachian area, it was our time to come down and add our voice to it.”
The new antiwar movement showed its full breadth at the October 26 demonstrations in Washington, D.C., San Francisco and across the country. Speaking from the podium at the rally in Washington–called by the antiwar group ANSWER–were civil rights leaders Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and actor Susan Sarandon.
“I am here because I am tired of being frightened to speak out,” Sarandon told the crowd. “Bush says you’re either for us or against us…I say to you Mr. Bush, this is what democracy looks like.”
Sharpton challenged the politicians in Washington to heed protesters’ demands. “There may have been some that folded in the Senate, but there are those of us that will not bend, will not buckle, will not bow and will not in any way defer to a war machine built on profits at the expense of people,” he said. Why do we march? Marching is how Blacks got the right to vote…Marching took Lyndon Johnson out of Vietnam and sent him back to Texas, where we’re going to send George Bush.”
Clarence Thomas, secretary-treasurer of the Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10–whose members were forced back to work when Bush invoked the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act–was on hand to connect Bush’s war on workers with the war drive against Iraq.
Several veterans also took the podium to speak out against the war. Charles Sheehan-Miles of Veterans for Common Sense served in the first Gulf War–and decided to become a conscientious objector. “We killed a lot of people in the Gulf,” he said. “You probably saw the picture of people standing up and surrendering. I never saw that. I was in a combat unit on the front lines. For me, [becoming a conscientious objector] was the only way I could keep my sanity and live with myself afterwards. I’ll be fighting, too, for the people who are in service today to make sure they get taken care of. For the Gulf War veterans of 1991, that didn’t happen.”
Later, protesters took the streets of D.C.–led by the ILWU drill team–in an electrifying march around the White House. Chants of “Black, Latino, Arab, Asian and white. Stop this war, no more, no more. Defend our civil rights!” and “Exxon, Mobil, BP, Shell, take your war and go to hell” rang out. The march was so large that at one point, cheering marchers winding back to the original rally site had to stop and wait for protesters who had just begun marching.
Protesters ranged from veterans of the movement against past U.S. wars to people who had just started organizing antiwar groups in their hometowns. Sylvia Carter Denny’s last protest was against Vietnam. Today, she was in Washington with almost 100 others from Yellow Springs, Ohio, including a busload of high school students. “The president wasn’t really even elected,” she said. “And now this war could launch our whole world into chaos.”
Protesters voiced their demands with homemade signs–such as “Fight hunger, not Iraq.” John Hallock from Philadelphia wore a large photo of the cousin that he lost in the September 11 attacks. “Protest is very important, because our leaders aren’t carrying out the will of the people,” he said. “The will of the people is peace.” But perhaps the most popular slogans was “No blood for oil.”
Unfortunately, some rally speakers, while voicing their opposition to a war on Iraq, gave their support for Bush’s “war on terrorism.” Jesse Jackson said in his rally speech that the U.S. had “unfinished business” with al-Qaeda–and even listed the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq as a U.S. war worth fighting.
But Jackson’s arguments were by no means unanimous among protesters. Indeed, among those who may have supported the “war on terrorism” in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, there was real questioning of Bush’s motives all along.
Michael Letwin of New York Labor Against the War talked about why people’s ideas were shifting. “We may have been a small antiwar labor minority in the days after 9/11, but as the Bush administration threatens war not only in Iraq but Colombia, the Philippines, and just about everywhere in the world, we’re not so alone anymore,” Letwin said.
Now activists are home from the protests–and setting their sights on spreading the antiwar message in their neighborhoods, schools and unions. “About 75 students met up early in the morning to go over to the protest together from our campus,” Ed Hernandez of the San Francisco State Students Against War group said at the Bay Area demonstration. “The protest has really energized people to go back to campus and plaster the place with flyers for our next antiwar meeting.”
After the rally in D.C., some 250 students came out for a networking meeting sponsored by Students Against the War in Iraq at George Washington University–to make connections for the struggle ahead.
The October 26 protests were an inspiring first step in the task of standing up to the Bush gang’s drive to war.
“Bush wants to send a message”
CLARENCE THOMAS is secretary-treasurer of International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 in San Francisco, the West Coast dockworkers’ union. ILWU members are working under a federal judge’s supervision after George W. Bush last month invoked the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act during a bosses’ lockout.
In his speech to the October 26 rally in Washington, Thomas told the crowd about how the ILWU took solidarity action for South African workers during apartheid and in support of death row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal–and he appealed for solidarity.
After leading demonstrators in a chant of “Hands off the docks, stay out of Iraq,” Thomas spoke to Socialist Worker about the connections between the dockworkers’ struggle and the antiwar movement.
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IT WAS important for us to come out to this rally because there’s a relationship between Bush’s “war against terrorism” and the war that’s occurring against working people here in America–in particular, the attack on labor unions. Because Bush perceives collective bargaining as an impediment to national security.
One of the things that has to be very clear is that this is the first time that the government has rewarded an employer with Taft-Hartley after it has locked out its workers. We think that the whole thing was a setup. The Bush administration is weighing in on the side of the employer because it wants to send a message that if you don’t toe the line, we will destroy you.
The ILWU has a long, progressive history. If you know anything about our union, you know that [longtime president] Harry Bridges was prosecuted four times by the U.S. government on the charge of being a communist.
But they were really prosecuting Harry because he was a man who understood the class struggle, who understood international labor solidarity, and who understood that discrimination was a tool of the bosses.