WASHINGTON. It was a frigid 20 degrees, but, mercifully, calm and sunny, as high-spirited, sign-waving, and slogan-chanting protesters, estimated at over 150,000, from 200 cities and 48 states, arrived in the nation’s capital, on Saturday morning, Jan. 18, 2003. Their passionate message to the Bush-Cheney Gang was simple and direct: “No War On Iraq!”
With a January 27th UN’s weapons inspection reporting deadline hovering over the event, this might be the last chance for activists to vent their rage at the lies and propaganda of the War Party, dominated by chicken hawks, like Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and the repulsive Richard Perle. With 60,000 U.S. troops already in the Persian Gulf, and another 30,000 being mobilized by the Pentagon, time is of the essence.
The protest, according to the International A.N.S.W.E.R (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) coalition, which helped to organize it, was dovetailed to fall on the weekend holiday commemorating the birthday of the martyred Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. It was also the 12th anniversary of Gulf War I, (1991), from which over 160,000 U.S. veterans have returned home with service-related medical disabilities from the effects of depleted uranium and other toxic chemicals. The west end of the U.S. Capitol was the starting point for the massive event, peopled by young and old alike.
Liz McAlister, widow of Phil Berrigan, the legendary anti-Nuke Movement leader, was one of the 30-plus speakers to address the crowd. She said that under the War Party, “Our military is ready to strike any where, at any time, and at any place around the world that it chooses.” Tyne Daley, popular Hollywood actress, and a member of the Screen Actors Guild, said, “This is the place to be, protesting, until we find a solution that does not include the idea of war. War is an obsolete idea.” Fred Mason, President of the Maryland’s AFL-CIO said, “We want jobs built on an economy of peace and not built on an economy of war.”
Ron Kovic, Vietnam War veteran, and author of “Born on the Fourth of July,” a book later made into a celebrated film starring Tom Cruise, moved the audience with his comments. He said, “There will be a rebirth in this, the winter of your struggles. You will endure through this and you will find strength as I did, when I lost three-fourths of my body [war related injuries in Vietnam]. You will be part of an extraordinary moment in history. This is your destiny. You were born to be here. You were born to reclaim this land. You will not abandon it. You were born to take this country back. You not only will stop this war, but you will change the priorities of this nation and return it to the people. You will do this because it is your sacred responsibility as Americans, and as citizens of the world.”
On the speakers’ agenda were also individuals representing groups, like the Free Palestine Alliance, Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, Black Voices for Peace, Global Exchange, Mexico Solidarity Network, Muslim Student Association, and the Not in Our Name Project.
British MP, (Labour), Jeremy Corbyn, roused the crowd, too, when he stated, “In Britain, there is overwhelming public opposition to Bush’s war over Iraq. Four hundred thousand marched in the streets of London against the war on Sept. 28. This is a war with no support, no public recognition for it. And, I think the leaders, President Bush and P.M. Tony Blair, are going to have to recognize that they are on their own. This is a war about oil, where the main beneficiary will be the arms manufacturers, who have made ‘so much,’ out of so much misery for so long. A world at peace can only be achieved if we are a world based on social justice.” A recent poll in the UK showed that only 17% of the country are in favor of a war with Iraq.
Inez Daniel, from Camden, Maine, told me: “The media says Bush is doing a good job, and that he is up in the polls. Well, we know that none of that is true. People are very concerned about what he is up too, and the changes he wants to bring. We want him to, at least, hear us.” Traveling up from Charleston, S.C. was Joan Looney. She said, “I’m here because I’m not in favor of the U.S. going to war with Iraq. I feel that war just escalates and that so many innocent people are going to get killed. So, I think it is just against the gospel.” Bernie Strub from Waterford, New Jersey, wanted to know: “Why? No one has ever given me, a satisfactory answer of ‘why’ the U.S., the mightiest power on earth, a nation of 285 million, is going to go to war against Iraq, a country of 23 million.” He added, “It doesn’t make any sense. I think it’s just another scalp for Bush to hang on to his belt, when he goes up for reelection again.”
James Harrington of New Hampshire said, “Let’s face it. We’ve been at war with Iraq, since 1991. The economic sanctions that we imposed on it, along with Britain, are killing tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi children every year. And, things will only get worse, too, for the Palestinians, if we invade Iraq again. Our government right now is giving carte blanche to Israel’s Ariel Sharon, and he is nothing but a butcher.”
After the speeches, the march proceeded, with banners and placards waving in the wind, to the Washington Navy Yard, a huge military installation, located in a working class area of the city, about 1.5 miles from from the Capitol. The parade, accompanied by music makers and activists in colorful costumes, made its way via Independence and Pennsylvania Avenues, then south on 8th to M Street, (between 1st and 11st, S.E.).
At the Navy Yard, the rally, a success by any standard, came to a close, after a mock request for an examination of weapons of mass destruction was demanded by self-appointed “peace inspectors.”
WILLIAM HUGHES is the author of “Baltimore Iconoclast” (Writer’s Showcase), which is available online. He can be reached at email@example.com.
(C) WILLIAM HUGHES 2003