Jan. 30, 2003

D.C.: Largest U.S. protest yet against Iraq war

By Leslie Feinberg

The power of the people. You could see it, filling the broad avenues in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 18, stretching for miles. You could hear its thunder: “No war on Iraq!” And as marchers reached the crest of Capitol Hill, looked back and roared in reaction to their own sheer strength, a mass of half a million, you could even taste it.

What a spectrum: all ages and nationalities, ethnicities, religious beliefs or lack of them, sexes, abilities, genders, sexualities, political viewpoints, occupations and walks of life. They came from diverse regions–from inner city neighborhoods to dairy farms; towns, campuses and reservations.

Homeowners and apartment dwellers marched with the homeless; working people walked shoulder to shoulder with the jobless and under-employed. Some weathered the day fortified by a good meal, others marched with growling stomachs. Retirees chanted alongside those too young to work.

The mercury hovered around 20 degrees. But even though an arctic front had swept down across the continental United States the day before the massive mobilization, it didn’t stop people of all ages from braving the trip to make their voices heard.

They came from as far away as Texas, Florida, Alabama, Colorado, Vermont, Wisconsin and Minnesota–many traveling an 18-30 hour bus trip in each direction. At least one bus drove all the way down from Nova Scotia.

Students from University of Wisconsin-Madison filled five buses. Another 10 buses brought people from around the state. A fleet of 22 buses came from Minneapolis/St. Paul and 35 from North Carolina, including 20 from Winston-Salem.

Just some of the cities in New York State: A minimum of 2,000 people from New York State’s Hudson Valley. People packed 10 buses from Syracuse, eight from Rochester, five from Albany, four from Callicoon, six from Westchester, two from Rockland County, two from Warwick, and three buses and a van from Buffalo.

An armada of more than 100 buses convoyed from New York City, including 20 from New York’s 1199/SEIU Health and Hospital Workers Union that brought many African American and Latino workers.

The Chicago Teachers Union brought six buses.

The 15 buses–with no empty seats–that pulled out of Boston’s Roxbury Community College at midnight en route to D.C. were joined on the road by dozens of buses, vans and car caravans from throughout New England.

At least 80 percent of those coming from Boston reported that they were going to their first national protest. The labor bus was filled with workers and union leaders from hotels, school bus yards, government and university offices, the Roxbury Workers Association and electrical workers hot off the picket line at General Electric’s Lynn, Mass., plant.

Latino youth, fresh from marching against a racist attack on bilingual education, helped organize another bus.

Three buses from Manchester, N.H., were packed with AIDS educators and civil rights veterans, Palestinian leaders, union organizers, lesbian, gay, bi and trans community activists, environmentalists and others. Trans youth led a bus; leaders of the local Women’s Fightback Network captained another.

One woman carried a sign on a pole that read simply: Mississippi.

Caravans of cars and buses clogged the highways and byways of D.C.; the bus station, Metro stops and cavernous Union train station were teeming with thousands of people wearing anti-war buttons and carrying hand-made signs. Any large stream of people in D.C. that day led to the National Mall.

Many people brought with them the sentiments of those who could not make the long journey. A woman from Fargo, N.D., carried a placard with the signatures of all her family and friends, neighbors and townspeople, who were against the war. Next to their names they’d written what they do for a living: nurse, librarian, teacher, auto mechanic.

One man carried a sign with 150 signatures. He said, “These are all the people against the war that I know who couldn’t come. And I got them all in 24 hours.” Representatives of the Brooklyn-based Bedford-Stuyvesant Coalition for Peace were there.

Equally impressive rallies

This sea of progressive humanity–from anti-imperialists to those cautious about the wisdom of this war–had answered a call issued last fall by the International ANSWER coalition, Act Now to Stop War & End Racism.

A sister protest of 200,000 was taking place simultaneously in San Francisco. There were also local protests. In all, including 38 countries around the world, millions marched to protest Bush and his generals’ drive towards war against Iraq.

Speakers from organizations that make up the ANSWER leadership addressed the rally. They are Partnership for Civil Justice, IFCO/Pastors for Peace, the Free Palestine Alliance-U.S., Nicaragua Network, Bayan-USA/International, Korea Truth Commission, International Action Center, Muslim Student Association of the U.S./Canada, Kensington Welfare Rights Union, Mexico Solidarity Network and the Middle East Children’s Alliance.

ANSWER brought together an impressive array of speakers at two rallies–one that began at 11 a.m. in the sprawling National Mall, and a concluding rally at the Washington Shipyard. The early rally was seen by millions in the United States and around the world on C-Span broadcasts.

Moonanum James, co-chair of United American Indians of New England and a Vietnam-era veteran, opened the rally by connecting the U.S. government’s ongoing racist war against Native peoples with their preparations for a racist war against Iraq.

Actors Jessica Lange and Tyne Daly addressed the crowd. So did political figures, including the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton; former-U.S. Congressperson Cynthia McKinney and Rep. John Conyers. The Rev. Lucius Walker read an anti-war statement from Rep. Charles Rangel.

Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark got a rousing cheer when he called on those listening to “impeach Bush.” Blase Bonpane, from the Office of the Americas, traveled from Los Angeles to bring greetings.

International representation included Ashraf El-Bayoumi from the Cairo Conference against U.S. Aggression on Iraq and Jeremy Corbyn from the Stop the War Coalition and a member of the British Parliament. They linked the Jan. 18 mass turnout with the call for worldwide demonstrations on Feb. 15. Abe Tomoko spoke as a representative of the Lower House of the Japanese Parliament.

Struggles around the world against U.S. domination were articulated by Teresa Gutierrez and Sara Flounders from the IAC; Hector Castro, director of education, Central Unitaria de Trabajadores, Colombia; Francisco Rivera, Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques; Marie Hilao Enriquez from BAYAN, a mass organization in the Philippines; and Yoomi Jeong from the Korea Truth Commission.

At a time when the Bush administration is carrying out mass roundups and demonization of Arab, Muslim and South Asian people in the United States, the ANSWER rally demonstrated solidarity in deed and in word. Speakers included Mahdi Bray, Muslim American Society; Ismael Kamal, Muslim Student Association; Ihab Darwish, Free Palestine Alliance; Ghazi Khan Kan, Council on American Islamic Relations; Imam Mousa, Masjid Al-Islam; and Dr. Mansoon Khan from Peace TV.

The Revs. Herbert Daughtry, national pastor of House of the Lord Church; Graylan Haglar, pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, and Jesuit priest John Dear addressed the audience.

Anti-war speakers included Charley Richardson and Nancy Lessen from Military Families Speak Out and Liz McAlister, partner and widow of the late peace activist Phil Berrigan. “No blood for oil!” demanded disabled Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic, author of “Born on the Fourth of July.”

Speaking out for labor against the war: Brenda Stokely, president of AFSCME 1707 and Local 215 as well as a co-convener of New York City Labor Against the War; Fred Mason, president of statewide Maryland and D.C. AFL-CIO; Michael Letwin from U.S. Labor Against War and Dr. Nadia Marsh from Doctors and Nurses Against the War.

ANSWER speakers included Youth and Student Coordinator Peta Lindsay, Elias Rashmawi from the Free Palestine Alliance. Jennifer Wager from IFCO/Pastors for Peace, Mara Verheyden-Hilliard from PCJ and Larry Holmes and Brian Becker, both from the International Action Center.

Speakers representing other anti-war coalitions included Bill Fletcher, co-chair of United for Peace and Justice; Damu Smith from Black Voices for Peace; Medea Benjamin from Global Exchange, and Miles Solay from Not In Our Name.

Speakers reminded the crowd about the war on the domestic front to free political prisoners Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier, Jamil Al-Amin, and the Cuban Five. Jesse Heiwa, from Queers for Peace and Justice, New York, pointed to the growing coalition of lesbian, gay, bi and trans organizations against the war. Brooklyn-based activists Viola Plummer from the December 12th Movement and City Councilman Charles Barron raised the need for anti-racist solidarity, including fighting for reparations.

British pop group Chumbawamba, singer Patti Smith and D.C. cultural artists Pam Parker and Lucy Murphy performed.

The first marchers stepped off close to 1 p.m. Accompanied by drumming, chanting and singing, they brought their message “No blood for oil!” to workers and passersby along a two-mile route to the military shipyard.

An hour later, when the head of the march reached the Navy Yard, tens of thousands had not yet left the rally site. The second rally took place from atop a truck because the D.C. police reneged on sound and stage permits. Brian Becker concluded that the powerful protest with its huge turnout was due to “a growing disenchantment with the Bush administration and an urgent situation, because Jan. 27 could be a deadline for war.”


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