Half a million tell Bush… No to war!
January 24, 2003 | Page 1
HALF A million people across the U.S. sent George W. Bush an unmistakable message on January 18. We don’t want your war on Iraq. And we’re ready to take a stand to stop you.
Even the corporate media had to take time out from its frenzied speculation about the United Nations (UN) weapons inspectors’ discovery of empty warheads in Iraq to report on the outpouring of opposition.
Some newspapers and TV reports downplayed the size of the protests with vague descriptions of “tens of thousands” of demonstrators. But no one who made the trip to Washington, D.C., or San Francisco is buying that.
Despite bitter-cold temperatures that dampened the turnout, at least 250,000 marched in Washington, jamming the streets for every block of the two-and-a-half-mile march route. In San Francisco, protesters filled Market Street from curb to curb for as far as the eye could see. Estimates of the crowd ranged as high as 200,000. In other cities across the country, thousands more turned out–as many as 20,000 in Portland, Ore., more than 1,000 each in Los Angeles and San Diego and hundreds in Houston.
The D.C. and San Francisco demonstrations were far larger than those that took place in October, and they brought out people from every corner of society, too–both new activists and veteran antiwar protesters, unionists and students, church groups and community organizations.
The size of the protests is a reflection of growing doubts about the war. A new Time-CNN poll showed Bush’s popularity dipping to the lowest level since before September 11. And according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, only 46 percent of Americans want a war with Iraq, even if UN inspectors find the government hiding “the ability to easily make weapons.”
In the weeks before January 18, march organizers and the antiwar movement were criticized–even by some claiming to be against the war–as “too radical” and “out of touch.” But it turns out that the critics are the ones who are “out of touch.”
“This war has touched a nerve,” Zack Robinson, who traveled from North Carolina with a group of 150 protesters, told Socialist Worker. “We have a Gulf War veteran who came out in our bus, we have union delegates, we have people from the civil rights movement, people from the Unitarian church, Quakers–it’s a slice of America. I don’t see anybody supporting this war except the big media and the Bush administration.”
From the signs, chants and speakers at the demonstrations, it was clear that large numbers of people have come to the same conclusion about one of the main motives for Bush’s war drive. In a word, oil. “This one is just so outlandishly blatant that it’s for oil,” said Ola Odell, who traveled from Bethel, Vt., with the group Vermonters for Peace.
And many protesters have drawn another conclusion–that the cost of this war will be paid for by ordinary people. “We just feel so strongly that the education budget is going to get cut a lot for this war,” said Mike Barringer, a student at the University of Michigan.
Students from across the country were on hand to get that message across. A day before the protests, representatives from more than 80 campus antiwar groups came together at East and West Coast student conferences to form a national student antiwar network.
But the protests also showed that the antiwar movement is reaching far beyond the traditional base of campus activism. As Luis Gonzalez, a retired member Service Employees International Union 1199, told Socialist Worker: “It’s not fair. The big guys up there, they’re not fighting the war. They send other people–poor people–to war. Unions are getting hurt. They’re laying off, laying off, laying off–and they’re thinking about going to war now? They don’t care about us. They care about oil, not us.”
The labor turnout was significant in both Washington and San Francisco. The 1199 union in New York sent more than 25 buses to Washington, and 2,000 union members marched behind the banner of “Labor Against the War.”
“Weapons of mass destruction are really weapons of mass distraction,” Michael Letwin, co-convenor of New York City Labor Against War, said from the stage in D.C. “They’re a distraction from oil. They’re a distraction from the disastrous economy at home. And they’re a distraction from the fact that it’s working people and poor people who will pay for this war.”
The demonstrations on January 18 were a tremendous success–and will certainly inspire more people to take a stand. In the coming weeks, we have the opportunity to take our antiwar message even wider–and show the Bush gang that they have a fight on their hands.