Tens of thousands march against the U.S. occupation
By Nicole Colson and Justin Powers | October 31, 2003 | Page 12
END THE occupation! Bring the troops home now! That was the message that rang out from Washington, D.C., and San Francisco last weekend as tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets to call for the U.S. out of Iraq.
As many as 30,000 marched in Washington, and another 15,000 turned out in San Francisco in demonstrations jointly called by International ANSWER and United for Peace and Justice, the country's two largest national antiwar coalitions.
At its peak, the San Francisco march stretched for 12 blocks. In Washington, marchers packed the street, edge to edge, for more than 20 blocks, with spirited contingents chanting "George Bush, we know you, you're a thief, a liar and a killer, too" and "Money for jobs and education, not for war and occupation."
"Right now, support for this occupation is eroding," Kalonji Perry, a student from New York City, told Socialist Worker. "We're part of a growing contingent of the population that's really growing impatient with what's going on: the fact that we have Iraqi civilians being killed all of the time, and the fact that American soldiers are being killed at a rate of one per day. We realize more than ever that George Bush was lying."
"I'm grateful people have taken a stand," said Kinesha Miller, who came to the San Francisco from Cupertino, Calif. "It does make a difference, my being out here."
Groups of students, veterans, military families, unionists and activists from across the country turned out for the national mobilization. In Washington, as many as 1,000 veterans and relatives of U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq marched together to demand an end to the lies of the Bush administration--and hundreds more came out in San Francisco.
Jari Sheese and Laura Niesen, whose husbands are reservists stationed with the 82nd Airborne in Ar Ramadi, made the long trip to D.C. from Indiana. "I'm with the 'Bring My Husband Home Now' contingent," joked Sheese, before turning serious.
"Our husbands are in Iraq. They're army reservists, and they've been there for a long time, and they're being extended for even longer. They're being treated really badly." As Niesen added: "They're burned out. They want to come home. Both of them have said, 'We want to come home.'"
Showing the strength of the antiwar movement on campuses, students were out in force for the protests. The Campus Antiwar Network (CAN) had contingents on both coasts. In Washington, 300 students from approximately 20 campuses marched with CAN members, while 200 took to the streets in San Francisco--chanting, "Out of campuses and into the streets, the antiwar movement can't be beat."
Dave, a student from SUNY-Geneseo in New York, said, "I came down with people from my school because I think this is an important cause. "We had no business going into Iraq in the first place, and we definitely have no business staying there."
For most, Bush was the understandable target of their anger. "Is stupidity an impeachable offense?" asked one sign. "Bush lied, thousands died," said others.
"I'm here because I'm fed up with the Bush administration," said 19-year-old Andy Johnson, from Minneapolis, Minn., who came to Washington for the demonstration--his first protest. "I'm sick and tired of what he's doing in Iraq and around the world. I'm also here for equal rights. As a gay citizen, I feel Bush is a bigot, and he needs to understand."
Many linked the fight against the occupation of Iraq with the fight for better lives here at home. As one sign commented, "$87 billion would go a long way at the doctor's office."
"I came out here because there's too many of our young men continuing to die, and the war is supposed to be over," Zela Scott, vice president of AFSCME DC 1707 Local 205, told Socialist Worker. Scott traveled from New York City with a busload of other union members because, she said, she feels like the Bush administration ignores working people like her. "We should leave Iraq and bring the troops home--use that money to develop the programs that need to be developed here," she said.
"We are the people. We should have a voice in how America should work. There's a cover-up for what's truly [Bush's] aim: money and oil. The rich and the richer."
Juan Jose, an organizer from Los Angeles who came to San Francisco for the demonstration in a seven-bus caravan, commented: "We need to recognize this war for what it is--this is an imperialist war, and their aim is to turn Iraq into a colony. The aim of all occupiers is to take the resources and exploit people." Jose pointed out that the policies of free-market economic reforms force people to immigrate into countries like the U.S., where immigrants are exploited yet again. "Here we have no rights except to work for lowest wages," he said
For some at the protest, the preferred solution to ending the U.S. occupation is for the United Nations (UN) to take control in Iraq. Phyllis Bennis, of the Institute for Policy Studies, told the crowd, "We need the United Nations to return to the days of last year, and earlier this year, when the United Nations was with us as part of our global mobilization for peace...We need a new internationalism, we need the United Nations, and we need the U.S. to end the occupation."
Presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich, in a statement that was read out in Washington, also called for the "The UN in, and the U.S. out!" But as Jerry Sanchez, a protester from San Francisco commented, "I doubt that the Iraqis want the UN to occupy their country any more than the U.S. Didn't the UN sanctions kill something like a million people in Iraq?"
For others, removing George W. Bush from office was a priority. "Stop mad cowboy disease in 2004" and "Remove the new Iraqi dictator" signs were on display, and Kucinich supporters were especially prominent in the crowds. In San Francisco, Cynthia McKinney, a Democrat and former U.S. representative, urged people to get the vote out in the next election and push "George Bush out the door in 2004."
But Gloria Pacis, the mother of war resister Stephen Funk, who is currently serving a six-month sentence in a military prison for refusing to go to war in Iraq, told Socialist Worker that it will take a larger antiwar movement to defeat Washington's war aims. "I spoke out today because we have a chance to repeat history, as we did during Vietnam--a war which was ended not by something that President Nixon signed," Pacis said.
"It had everything to do with world protest, with rebellion from within the military, and rebellion, of course, from the Vietnamese people themselves. We're essentially dismissed [by the government], and they figure that all the people who don't show up here today, or don't bother voting, or in secret hate the government but don't do anything about it, are giving them the go-ahead.
"But I feel like physically coming here and doing whatever we can to say, 'This isn't right. We want to live in a democracy' is important. It's why I came. I feel no more confidence in simply going to a voting booth and voting. That doesn't cut it for me anymore...I'm very proud to be a part of the movement."
Although the turnout was smaller than the massive antiwar demonstrations before the invasion, this latest demonstration marks an important phase of the antiwar movement--taking up new questions and challenges. As United for Peace and Justice National Coordinator Leslie Cagan commented, "Before the war started, we all were working as hard as we could to try and prevent the war from happening. That's a very different dynamic [from today]. And so it is hard.
"You know, calling this a 'movement' makes perfect sense. Sometimes we're stronger, sometimes we're a little smaller...Today's demonstrations are not going to be as large as the massive ones last winter and spring. But I don't think people should feel defeated by that or pessimistic. We are very much alive, and the fact that so many people are here, coming from so many different communities, is a sign of how very real this movement is."
Medea Benjamin, cofounder of the antiwar group Code Pink, agreed. "I've been going around the country," Benjamin said, "and I see that people feel very demoralized because they came out in record numbers [before the war], and Bush called them a 'focus group' and didn't listen to them.
"I think because of the disinformation, there's a lot of people who think things would be worse for Iraqis if the U.S. troops left. That's why I think we've got to do a lot of education and get people to understand that the violence in Iraq today is because of the occupation and the resistance it brings--and that Iraqis are very capable of running their own country, and are actually demanding self-rule."
Monique Dols of the Campus Antiwar Network told the crowd: "As the lies around the war in Iraq are exposed every day, Bush's popularity is plummeting, and every person here today represents hundreds and thousands of people who hate Bush, who see through his lies, and who are questioning the occupation of Iraq...Today, they want to silence us and intimidate us from continuing to organize against this occupation. But together, we can send a strong message: We're not going anywhere!"