ANTIWAR MARCHES DRAW HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS
By Aaron Glantz
Inter Press Service
January 28, 2007
WASHINGTON -- Peace activists from across the United States gathered in Washington Saturday for what they said was the largest demonstration to date against the Iraq war.
"It's time for a new day," the Reverend Jesse Jackson told what organisers estimated as a crowd of 500,000 demonstrators gathered outside the halls of Congress on the National Mall.
"We do not need more troops in Iraq, we need more money at home," Jackson said. "We need a vision of hope over fear, of preparing smart children not smart bombs. A vision realising that right makes might; might does not make right."
The demonstration, which was pulled together by an umbrella group called United for Peace and Justice, also featured speeches by a half dozen antiwar Congresspeople.
Among them was a founder of Congress' "Out of Iraq Caucus," Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, who pledged not to vote "one dime for this war."
Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson also spoke, as did actors Jane Fonda and Sean Penn, members of the National Organization for Women and other feminist groups, members of the United States military and veterans groups opposed to the war, and representatives of organized labour.
"The American people spoke loudly in the November election, removing from office many of those who shared President Bush's wrong-headed thinking," Fred Mason, head of the Maryland chapter of the AFL-CIO, a major umbrella trade union, told the crowd. "The new Congress has a responsibility to the American people to end military involvement in Iraq and bring our troops home now."
Like many speakers at the rally, Mason expressed disappointment that so far the Democratic Congress' opposition to George W. Bush's Iraq policy has shown itself mainly in the drafting of non-binding resolutions against his troop surge. For his part, Bush has rebuffed those efforts.
"I'm the decision maker," Bush said Friday. "I've picked the plan that I think is most likely to succeed . . . I know there is scepticism and pessimism and that some are condemning a plan before it's even had a chance to work."
Like other speakers at Saturday's rally, trade unionist Fred Mason said Bush's intransigence means Congress should immediately cut funding for the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
"The American people don't want a surge in the violence and the deadly risk to their loved ones associated with this president's wrong-headed approach," he said. "Our democracy provides ourselves with the opportunity to express ourselves in these electoral processes. However, when there is reason to doubt whether the people we elected are heeding the people's will, we have a responsibility to speak with an even louder voice."
Still, the mood amongst demonstrators was optimistic.
"I really feel the American people are with us," said Al Johnson, a retired teacher from Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
"It's such an important topic," he told IPS. "I haven't been to a demonstration in more than 30 years."
Saturday's demonstration in Washington was just one of more than 50 held around the country this weekend. In San Francisco, a protest against President Bush's plan to send 21,500 additional troops to Iraq turned out 5,000 demonstrators. In Los Angeles, thousands took to the streets, with many carrying signs that said "Impeach Bush."
In Seattle, more than 1,000 people turned out to protest. Among the speakers at that rally was first Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer to face prosecution for refusing to serve in Iraq.
Long-time social activist Tom Hayden told IPS President Bush's ability to wage war is increasingly tenuous.
"Wars are based on pillars," Hayden said. "You need available soldiers, you need bipartisan support. You need recruitment of more soldiers, you need money, you need your moral reputation to be preserved and you need allies. By any of those measures the pillars are being undermined."
Hayden noted that more than 1,000 active duty U.S. soldiers have signed a petition calling for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Unhappiness with the war is also growing among veterans, with the group Iraq Veterans Against the War estimating their organisation has quadrupled in size over the last year.
"Supporting the troops that have signed these petitions and supporting efforts to stop military recruitment at our high schools and at community colleges are absolutely vital," Hayden added. "But people every day can do something. You want to convince your undecided neighbor to go against, you want to convince your kid not to go, you want to take a picket sign to the military recruiting office. You want to link up with the poor people's and labour organisations and say this war costs 287 million dollars an hour."
"If you put your energies toward a pillar they will eventually tip," he said, "and they cannot fight a war without these resources."
ONE OF THE BEST DAYS OF MY LIFE
By Deborah Kory
January 28, 2007
"Tens of thousands" protested in Washington, they are saying. The news media got this number from an unofficial, un-named police source, while the organizers of the event themselves were seemingly not consulted. I walked right up to Leslie Kagan (President of United for Peace and Justice and chief organizer of today's protest) after the event was over and asked her how many people she thought attended today.
She said 500,000 was their estimate, but she expected the media would report only half that number. But "tens of thousands"? Come on, news! There were masses of people from forty states, three hundred busloads, over 1000 organizations, not to mention all the people who just showed up because they had to. The media does a grave injustice in under-reporting our collective force. We came from all parts of the country to represent the majority of Americans in our call to end the war in Iraq and withdraw our troops. This was not some fringey little gathering -- we had Congresspeople, grandmothers, Democrats and Republicans, veterans of the Iraq War, men still serving in the army, celebrities, children, people of all faiths, ethnicities, color. It was the most enormous gathering of people I've ever seen, and most certainly the biggest and most diverse protest held in Washington, D.C. since the Vietnam Era.
I suppose I should be grateful that the media didn't do what it has done over the last few years and photograph the lady on stilts, the giant papier-mâché puppet and some potheads playing hacky sack and use these images to represent the peace movement. But I can't help but feel pissed off returning after this incredible, massive, exuberant March on Washington and seeing lengthy coverage of the theft of Crysal Gayle's tour bus and even lengthier coverage of the poor kid who got a ten-year prison sentence for getting a blow job. Look, I'm sorry about that kid, he's a victim of a most bizarre form of sexual oppression, but wouldn't it behoove CNN -- our Cheerleader in Chief for this war -- to analyze the meaning of this day with at least as much fervor as they are dissecting this blow job? It is almost comical that on the very day we were gathering to call for the impeachment of our current President, the press should obsessively dissect the nuances of a blow job gone awry. Smacks of something familiar.
Well, I'm here to bear witness to reality, the facts on the ground. We were not in the "tens of thousands," we were in the "hundreds of thousands." Quote that, damnit. We did not gather to protest the surge (though it was certainly one object of our protest); we gathered to protest the immorality of the Iraq War. We came to mourn the hundreds of thousands of lives lost to this meaningless war and to express our fears about being thrust against our will to the very brink of global chaos. We did not come to "march against Congress" as some of the media are claiming; we came to hold our elected officials accountable and to use the leverage we have in this so-called Democracy to try to correct for 5 years of political lunacy. We came to let our elected representatives know that if they press forward with their mandate to end the war, we will be here to support them. We came not only to protest, but to engage in dialogue with our elected officials (we will be "lobbying" on Capitol Hill on Monday). And, yes, we came to ask for a Presidential impeachment.
We came in the hundreds of thousands. Counterprotestors: 40 or so. They called us "Commies" as we walked by. They were so last-century and out of touch that people stopped to take pictures of them, curious remnants of a bygone era.
It was an inspired day. Beautifully warm and sunny, there were people crowded on the Mall as far as the eye could see. There was joy and a sense of collective humanity and purpose. There was sadness and indignation and cries for help. There were small children and elderly people in wheelchairs, unions and religious congregations, celebrities, and tireless-but-anonymous peace activists. We came out of love, fear, anger. We came to bear witness to the current reality and invoke the possibility of an entirely different reality. And we came in the hundreds of thousands.