Protests erupt across the U.S. as war begins
By Elizabeth Schulte, Lee Wengraf and Chris Brown | March 28, 2003 | Page 12
THE RESPONSE was immediate--and overwhelming: Stop the war on Iraq! Hundreds of thousands of people--in dozens of cities, from every walk of life, in actions large and small--took to the streets in the days after the U.S. launched its bloody attack on Iraq.
The massive protest of more than a quarter of a million people on March 22 in New York City was too big even for the media to ignore. The signs at the protest expressed anger at the brutality and hypocrisy of Bush's war: "No more blood for oil," "Sending our children to kill their children," "Freedom fries while Baghdad burns," "Bush and Co. are weapons of mass destruction," "No war for empire," "Regime change begins at home," and simply "No war!"
Susan Klitzman, whose sister Karen was killed in the September 11 attacks, came out to take a stand against the war. "For each person who dies, it touches hundreds," Klitzman said. "And we're killing thousands right now in Iraq. I'm thinking about the thousands of innocent lives that are being destroyed."
Peace groups mobilized from all over the Northeast, as did high school and college antiwar groups. "It's important for our voices to be heard," said Paul Brunetti, a freshman at CW Post University on Long Island. "This is supposed to be a democracy, but the government doesn't listen," added math professor Ann Burns.
The New York protest was the biggest of the weekend demonstrations that took place in major cities around the country. Anger boiled over in the days before, as activists turned out for emergency response demonstrations as the war began.
In Chicago, one of the biggest Day X protests swelled to 15,000 people, who marched through the downtown to take part in mass civil disobedience--taking over all eight lanes of Lake Shore Drive.
"You're not going to believe me," one demonstrator told Socialist Worker, "but I'm in the Army Reserves. I was a soldier in the Middle East in the 1980s. I can't stand what they're doing there. This is going to be my last hitch."
As demonstrators wound through downtown streets, the police--overwhelmed and confused by the huge crowd at every turn--had to step aside to give up the streets to protesters. "Whose war? Their war! Whose streets? Our streets!" rang through the crowd. There was a jubilant atmosphere as the marchers took over Lake Shore, leaping over the center dividers and weaving through stopped cars.
The next day, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley painted a picture of furious people trapped in cars. But that was in sharp contrast to what demonstrators saw--many drivers flashing the peace sign, honking and giving marchers high fives.
Hours later, police evidently decided to end the protest--period. Lines of cops in riot gear surrounded the remnants of the march--now numbering no more than a few thousand--as it tried to move through the tony Michigan Avenue shopping district.
The police first arrested anyone who appeared to be an organizer--in several cases, tossing them to the ground and hitting them--and then started randomly arresting anyone else. To exact their revenge for losing control of the streets, the cops kept the more than 500 people that they grabbed behind bars for the next 12 hours at least--some even longer.
But if Chicago officials thought they could instill fear in antiwar protesters, they failed. The next day, 10,000 people again turned out to rally and march as U.S. warplanes began their "Shock and Awe" bombardment of Baghdad.
The same story was repeated in San Francisco, where tens of thousands from around the Bay Area took to the streets on the day the wary began. Police arrested more than 2,200 people and brutally beat and pepper-sprayed hundreds over the course of two days.
But they failed to break the spirit of the antiwar movement. At the March 22 demonstration, more than 80,000 people took over the streets again. "It takes courage to be here with these repressive cops all around, but it's urgent and necessary to stand up to Bush and the system," Masha Albrecht, a San Francisco teacher, told Socialist Worker.
"Bush's talk about building democracy in Iraq and liberating the people there is all bullshit," said Chrissy Dressler, a Sacramento college student. "We don't have democracy and liberation here in the U.S., except here on the streets where we're in control today."
In addition to these big demonstrations, there were countless actions across the country, both big and small--a sit-in at University of California-Berkeley; a takeover of the Massachusetts Avenue bridge in Boston; veterans rallying against the war in Washington, D.C.; marches, protests and candlelight vigils from Madison, Wis., to Greensboro, N.C., from Burlington, Vt., to Bush's home state of Texas.
Reports on these actions flooded into Socialist Worker's e-mail account, and many more circulated around the Internet. And opponents of this war promise more actions to come. We will protest, walk out, sit in--whatever it takes to stop this war!
Student activists leap into action
COLLEGE AND high school students around the country leapt into action to protest the start of a war on Iraq.
On March 24, 1,000 students at San Francisco State University (SFSU) came out for a demonstration sponsored by Students Against War. When President Robert Corrigan tried to preempt the rally by telling students to "calmly discuss" the slaughter, students took over the stage and turned it into a speak-out. Then, they marched to the administration building, and hundreds began a peaceful sit-in occupation, chanting, "Whose school? Our school! Whose war? Their war!"
Students Against War are demanding that the university refuse cooperation with FBI harassment of international students and scholars, lift sanctions against the SFSU General Union of Palestine Students for a peaceful protest last year, and not raise tuition or lay off campus workers.
The same day in Chicago, students staged a walkout at the University of Illinois-Chicago, with 800 attending a packed speak-out.
On the day that the war began, 7,000 students jammed the University of California-Berkeley's Sproul Plaza, and hundreds rushed into Sproul Hall, where they sat in. After several hours, police began arresting people--in many cases using pain-holds on people who weren't resisting arrest and pushing them into metal doors and down steps. About 120 people were arrested.
Campus police also bared their teeth at the University of Texas (UT) in Austin. When they found antiwar activist and ISO member Jon Bougie chalking the campus walls to advertise for an emergency response protest, UT cops snuck up behind him and slammed his head against the wall. Bougie's glasses were broken, and his face cut up.
But this harassment didn't stop 1,000 students from protesting the war the next day. Students at countless secondary schools across the country responded to Bush's war. Thousands of students from 18 Montgomery County, Md., high schools walked out of classes, later joining a rally of D.C.-area students in the afternoon.
"This is part of a war on workers"
IN THE last few months, labor activists have organized an unprecedented union opposition to war. Numerous locals have passed antiwar resolutions, and activists formed the national U.S. Labor Against the War in January.
Even the AFL-CIO Executive Council passed a resolution critical of George W. Bush's war drive at its annual meeting in February. Unfortunately, the federation caved as soon as the war began--with AFL-CIO President John Sweeney issuing a "rally around the flag" statement.
But many rank and filers aren't buying it. At the huge March 22 demonstration in New York City, Dorothee Benz outlined the issues facing workers. "The money spent on war instead of social needs is criminal," said Benz, communications director for Communications Workers of America Local 1180, representing city workers. "This war is a piece of the war on workers at home. They're not asking for sacrifice from any quarter except us."
Members of New York City Labor Against the War (NYCLAW), which formed right after September 11, were out in force, marching under the banner, "Labor's Enemies are in the White House and Corporate Board Rooms, Not in Iraq."
"It was wrong to attack a country that has not attacked us, and it is working people that will pay the price," Michael Letwin, co-convenor of NYCLAW said at a press conference the day the war began.