Bring the troops home now!’
By Deirdre Griswold
Published Mar 20, 2005 12:02 AM
As the brutal occupation of Iraq grinds on after two years of death and destruction, its toll on working-class youth and the growing impoverishment of already oppressed communities is reshaping the anti-war movement in the United States. “Why Harlem?” asked emcee Nellie Bailey of the Harlem Tenants Council. “Because when other communities catch a cold, the Harlems of this country catch pneumonia.”
“Why Harlem?” asked emcee Nellie Bailey of the Harlem Tenants Council. “Because when other communities catch a cold, the Harlems of this country catch pneumonia.”
A demonstration here on March 19, the anniversary of the day two years ago when the Pentagon began its “shock and awe” campaign, reflected this change when it began in Harlem, the historic cultural center for African Americans.
“Why Harlem?” asked emcee Nellie Bailey of the Harlem Tenants Council. “Because when other communities catch a cold, the Harlems of this country catch pneumonia.” The march strectched for 15 blocks.
The march strectched for 15 blocks.
After a rally at Marcus Garvey Park opened by Brenda Stokely, leader of the daycare workers’ union and an organizer of the Million Worker Movement, some 15,000 people of all nationalities marched through streets where boarded-up brownstones face gentrified new housing too expensive for the average Harlem resident.
Stretching 15 blocks, the march passed an armed forces recruiting center on 125th Street, where the chant went up, “Bring the troops home now” and “Armed forces out of Harlem.” It then proceeded to the “Barrio” of largely Latin@ East Harlem before winding up in Central Park, where thousands more anti-war folks already attending the rally there cheered the arrival of the Harlem contingent. Later, protesters marched down to the Fifth Avenue mansion of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire supporter of the Bush administration, for a third and final rally.
The Troops Out Now coalition, which organized the protest, represents a coming together of anti-war and intervention groups like the International Action Center (IAC) with community groups fighting poverty, police brutality and homelessness, as well as the dynamic new Black-led organization of militant trade unionists, the Million Worker Movement.
A constant theme of speakers, placards and chants was how the price tag for the war and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and the funding of Israel’s occupation of Palestine are taking funds away from education, health care, housing and other social needs. Budget cuts in social services are drying up major sources of jobs, too, leaving young people in poor communities vulnerable to the false promises of military recruiters.
Now soldiers returning from these wars find that even veterans’ benefits have been cut. A number of veterans, as well as soldiers resisting deployment to Iraq, spoke of how no one should be forced to fight in a “rich man’s war.”
Embattled activists like attorney Lynne Stewart–who faces a 30-year sentence in a case widely seen as a government attempt to intimidate lawyers from defending those it calls “terrorists”–and a group from City College arrested for protesting military recruitment on campus all received impassioned applause. “Dying in Iraq is not a job opportunity!” said one of the students, promising that resistance to military recruitment on campuses will grow.
The crowd warmly greeted speakers representing other nationalities–Filipino, Korean, Iraqi, Palestinian, Iranian, Venezuelan and Haitian–who exposed U.S. imperialism’s crimes in their countries and called for international solidarity in the struggle for a world without racism or imperialist exploitation. There was broad support for resistance to intervention and occupation.
The poetry, music and rhythms of Harlem were felt throughout the day as young hip hop artists and singers translated the political yearnings of their communities into spoken word and song.
Long-time opponents of imperialist aggression like Professor Howard Zinn and IAC founder Ramsey Clark were interspersed with a rising generation of new activists.
This new coalition of forces is already planning its next move. Larry Holmes of the coalition and the IAC announced that Troops Out Now and the Million Worker Movement will jointly sponsor a May Day demonstration this year at Union Square, the historic gathering place for worker militants in New York. As the war in Iraq becomes ever more a war against the workers here, all eyes will be on this important revival of the class struggle in a form that corresponds to the multinational character of today’s working class.