Millions march against war
From Athens to New York, a global call for US restraint
By Tatsha Robertson, Globe Staff, 2/16/2003
NEW YORK — Antiwar protesters young and old flooded the East Side of Manhattan yesterday as millions more across America and around the globe rallied against US plans for military action in Iraq.
Organizers estimated that the New York demonstrators numbered 400,000, but Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly estimated the crowd at 100,000.
The demonstrators, a few of whom scuffled with police at barricades not far from the United Nations, filled a section of the city two blocks deep and 20 blocks long.
Across the Atlantic, there were dozens of demonstrations against what was described as US aggression. In the capitals of many of the United States’ traditional allies, marchers pleaded for peace and called on the Bush administration to allow UN weapons inspectors more time to work in Iraq.
In London, 750,000 marched against war, police said. About 660,000 protested in Madrid, and about 1 million marched in Rome, authorities said.
”Let America listen to the rest of the world,” Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa told protesters in New York, who braved temperatures of about 20 degrees. ”The rest of the world is saying `Give the inspectors more time.’ ”
Leaders of America’s growing antiwar movement acknowledge they may not dissuade President Bush from his preparations to strike Iraq, but they believe that with increasingly large rallies across the country, Internet messages, and antiwar ads that speak directly to the public, they are swaying public opinion against the administration’s position toward Baghdad.
”The lesson of Vietnam is that you can’t go to war unless there is overwhelming public support,” said Ben Cohen, cofounder of the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream company who has backed a number of antiwar television and newspaper ads. ”We are trying to make that clear to the administration.”
The crowd in New York included survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack and relatives of soldiers and sailors already stationed in the Persian Gulf. Beating drums and waving flags, they overflowed the designated protest area and tied up traffic. One sign read, ”The World Says No to War.”
Already on high alert for possible terrorist attacks, New York police deployed new security teams with sharpshooters and radiation detectors. For the most part, the day appeared to be free of violence. But there was a clash between police and protesters who weren’t allowed to join the main rally.
The protesters had lost a court battle against the city over their request to march past the UN on First Avenue. An appeals judge sided with the mayor and police chief, who argued that the demonstrators should be penned in behind barricades five blocks north of UN headquarters.
The demonstrators filled First Avenue from 52nd Street to 72nd Street. When police refused to let any more protesters onto the avenue, spontaneous demonstrations broke out on Second Avenue.
Police on horseback and in riot gear broke up the overflow crowd, but it moved another block east to Third Avenue. There at least one handcuffed demonstrator was seen face down on the street as mounted police drove back the crowd.
There were as many as 150 rallies in other towns and cities across the country, from Yakima, Wash., to Detroit, to St. Petersburg, Fla. In Chicago, about 3,000 protesters, including teachers and cab drivers and parents with their children, wore ”No War” buttons and waved bloody battle pictures with the caption ”This is War.”
”I think the administration has to pay attention to the fact that not only the few thousands that are here in Chicago but tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people across the country and millions around the world are standing together against the war,” said Andrea Shapiro, who was at the Chicago rally.
”If they don’t change their minds,” Shapiro said, ”then they will certainly, I would hope, be at least required to slow down, step back, and take into account that the world is not going to let the United States become the imperial master that it wants to be.”
In Philadelphia, demonstrators, including members of the Quaker community, marched to the site of the Liberty Bell. In Los Angeles, actors and directors, including Anjelica Huston, Rob Reiner, and Martin Sheen, joined a crowd that walked down Hollywood Boulevard.
”Can you justify blood for oil?” read a sign held by 14-year-old Marianna Daniels at a rally in Madison, Wis.
The rally in London put additional pressure on Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has been a steadfast supporter of Bush’s position.
”What I would say to Mr. Blair is stop toadying up to the Americans and listen to your own people, us, for once,” said Elsie Hinks, 77, who marched in London.
In Madrid, protesters carried a sign that read ”Save the Children” in Spanish, warning of the consequences of warfare for civilians. French sentiment against the United States was stinging: ”They bomb, they exploit, they pollute, enough of this barbarity,” some of the marchers chanted in the southwestern city of Toulouse.
The growing number and size of the demonstrations in the United States, organizers say, have shown the diverse face of the new antiwar movement: Church leaders, labor union workers, military families, and local officials joined with college students and liberal activists in hopes of altering the course of history.
”The movement is broad and deep,” said Charley Richardson of Jamaica Plain, who was in New York with his wife, Nancy Lessin. Richardson’s son, a Marine, is stationed in the Persian Gulf region.
Richardson held up a poster of his son, Joe.
”When he volunteered, one of our concerns was that he could end up in the position that he is in today,” Richardson said. ”The decision to go to war is being made for the wrong reasons, and he is the one that would have to carry that decision out. We’re terrified.
”The hardest thing would be for someone to tell us that our son has been killed in an unjust war,” he said.
Demonstrators said they are anxious that time is running out to stop an attack on Iraq, but they said they hoped the massive rallies coming on the heels of a rebuff of the US position at the United Nations on Friday will make things particularly uncomfortable for the Bush administration.
”Public opinion is what prevents the worst mistakes and makes possible the best,” said Bob Wing, of United for Peace and Justice, the national group organizing the New York protest. ”This antiwar movement has a broad opposition to [Bush’s] whole foreign policy and main elements of the domestic security policy.”
What has surprised Vietnam-era protesters and scholars is how fast the new movement has galvanized supporters. The Vietnam War was well underway before hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets, said Richardson, a former Vietnam-era activist. ”There are no body bags coming home, and yet there is still an antiwar movement.”
”We haven’t seen much widespread opposition like this to any American war at its beginning. I think you probably will have to go back to the end of Vietnam, when there were massive protests, and before that it was World War II,” said Michael Letwin, of New York City Labor Against the War. ”Does that mean Bush will pay attention? They don’t want to listen to anybody. . . . Nonetheless, I think they may not have a choice.”
Organizers credit the Internet with helping to mobilize activists quickly in comparison to antiwar campaigns of the past.
”We e-mail a list of 400,000 people, and a lot of them very quickly respond to those e-mails, and when they respond they often tell their friends, and so what you get is a snowball effect,” said Eli Pariser, the international director for New York’s MoveOn.org, an antiwar organization. ”The president has made it clear that he doesn’t want to pay attention to what Americans think about this,” he said. ”So what we are trying to do is show a clear sentiment that he really can’t ignore.”
Globe correspondents Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz and Joe Lauria contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was also used.
This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 2/16/2003.