The action was called by a coalition of groups called International ANSWER. Though smaller than a January 18 peace rally here, demonstrators were lively and determined to voice their opposition to Washington’s war policies in the Mideast. Many, especially among the large numbers of students and other youth, were eager to discuss the war, its causes and consequences, and how to oppose it.
Many of the speakers singled out President George Bush as responsible for the war and argued that it could be "stopped before it starts" by mobilizations of public opinion. Many of the demonstrators interviewed were still hopeful that "somehow" the war could be avoided.
"This may be our last chance to stop the war," said Daniel Collins, 20, who came with a vanload of six other students from the University of Richmond in nearby Richmond, Virginia. "President Bush is meeting right now," added his friend, Sandra Finch, 20, "making preparations to start the bombing."
"If they go to war," said Sharon Rizack, 19, "we have got to keep marching. The people in Iraq must know that we don’t agree with our government."
As it was for many others, this was the first demonstration for Jenny Walsh, 21, a student at Frostburg State University in Maryland. "The war will be horrible," she said, but she remained hopeful it "would never happen."
Noelle Ilves-Corresset, 23, a student at Camden Community College near Philadelphia, and her friend Lauren Medsker, 21, came on a bus from Philadelphia. "I am a pacifist and against all wars," Corresset said. She said she was outraged because "Bush is using the war to support the oil companies." On the march were many banners and placards that read, "No Blood for Oil."
"You kill, you lie, Palestine will never die!" chanted a contingent of Palestinians and their supporters. Palestinian flags could be seen throughout the march. Representatives of several Palestinian and Arab rights organizations spoke at the rally.
"We know what the Iraqi people have suffered and will suffer with a U.S. war," said Ihab Darwish of the Free Palestine Alliance. "We Palestinians have the scars of 55 years of occupation. But as we have, the Iraqi people will resist."
"There will be no peace in the Middle East until there is peace and justice for the Palestinians," Darwish said. "And that peace must include the right of the Palestinians to return to their land."
During Darwish’s speech several small groups of pro-war counterprotesters yelled out, "Give peace a chance--Stop the suicide bombers!" Others around them answered with chants of "Free, free Palestine!"
A group of students carried a banner that read, "Defend Affirmative Action!" One of the speakers, Winnie Khuyo, said, "Far from being a color-blind society--all you need to do is look at the D.C. schools and you will see that we are more separate and unequal than nearly 50 years ago when the Supreme Court handed down the Brown decision." Khuyo spoke representing the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action and Integration and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary.
She called on rally participants to come back to Washington on April 1 for a protest at the Supreme Court, when it will hear arguments in a challenge to the University of Michigan affirmative action admissions policy. The march has been endorsed by the NAACP and several other prominent civil rights organizations.
"Not only must we stop the war in Iraq," said John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, "We must stop the war against African-American farmers." His organization was one of several groups of Black farmers who filed a suit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for discrimination in loans and other services.
A contingent of the Socialist Workers Party and Young Socialists carried a banner that read, "Bring the Troops Home Now! UN Inspectors Out of Iraq! Oppose the Assault on Iraq’s Sovereignty!" Others around the contingent joined in chanting "Bring the troops home now."
Discussion on ‘inspectors’
But some demonstrators objected to the demand to get the inspectors out, arguing that "the inspectors are the only thing preventing war."
Bill Hostler, 56, from nearby Charlottesville, Virginia, said, "I think people like Senator Kennedy are right--the inspections are working and keeping Saddam Hussein in check. The inspectors should be given more time and the UN should send more of them."
This view was expressed in banners and placards as well as by many who spoke from the stage.
The demonstration took place as politicians from the two capitalist parties--including those who had expressed criticisms of the Bush administration--were closing ranks behind the U.S. president and "our men and women" poised for the assault on Iraq.
Several prominent Democratic Party politicians who had spoken at peace rallies over the past two months were noticeably absent. Jesse Jackson, for example, was listed on the program but did not appear, and no explanation was given.
One of those speaking, Democratic congressman John Conyers, said, "This administration has shown contempt for the constitution and the democratic process. I am here to let you know that we in Congress are getting ready to hold this war in abeyance."
Conyers along with Rep. Charles Rangel have proposed that the draft be reinstated, arguing that this would ensure that military service does not fall solely on the poor. Conyers made no mention of the proposal at the rally.
Conyers ended his remarks saying, "But we must say what must be done with Saddam Hussein." He proposed the Iraqi president be brought before an "international tribunal" for war crimes. In response, many in the crowd began to chant, "Bush is a war criminal."
A substantial number of the speakers were introduced as coordinators of various outreach committees of International ANSWER, which sponsored the event. Brian Becker, a leader of the coalition and of the International Action Center, argued, "Bush and Blair had to meet on a tiny island because the American people still suffer from that rare disease of ‘Vietnam Syndrome.’"
Becker introduced International Action Center spokesperson Ramsey Clark, who was U.S. attorney general in the Johnson administration, as the "foremost politician in this country who has stood for social justice." Clark said the peace protests have helped to slow the start of war. "We have reached the Ides of March and there is still no war," he said. He praised the French government for its "courageous stand" in the United Nations Security Council.
Clark announced that he has established a web site at which participants in the rally could "vote to impeach President Bush."
Other speakers at the rally included labor union officials, representatives of Muslim mosques and Arab political groups, and local antiwar groups.
Peace rallies took place in several cities across the country, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and around the world, including in Germany, Spain, Japan, and throughout the Middle East.
Tens of thousands marched in San Francisco. Earlier marches there had been significantly larger, with widespread expectations expressed by demonstrators and exhortations from speakers that the massive demonstrations in the United States and around the world could stop the war. This time, the mood was more restrained.
A number of pro-war rallies took place around the country as well. Several thousand people demonstrated in downtown Atlanta March 15 to back Washington’s war moves.
"Support our troops" rallies were held in Portland, Oregon, and other cities. Some 75 people held a pro-war counterprotest in Washington, sponsored by a group called Free Republic.
Chessie Molano and Lea Sherman contributed to this article, as did Peter Buch in San Francisco.
Hundreds snap up ‘Militant’ at protests
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