News and reports
January 30, 2004 | Pages 10 and 11
Bring the troops home now
WASHINGTON--About 300 people turned out in front of the Capitol Building despite frigid temperatures to hold a vigil remembering the people killed during the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Headed up by Military Families Speak Out, participants were asked to read aloud the name of an Iraqi or U.S. troop killed in Iraq one by one before Bush gave his State of the Union address.
When asked why they came out, people were quick to make connections between the war at home and the war abroad. "We're spending $12,000 dollars a second on the military while people in my community are starving," said Susan Cran, an organizer with Jona House Community in Baltimore.
ACTIVISTS IN cities across the U.S. protested at French consulates January 17 to demand religious freedom in France. The demonstrations were part of an international day of protest against French President Jacques Chirac's proposed ban on "conspicuous" religious symbols in public schools. If passed, the bill will make it illegal for the hijab, or Muslim headscarf, the Jewish yarmulkes, large Christian crosses or Sikh turbans to be worn in schools.
In Paris, 30,000 protested against the bill, and in London, 2,000 took to the streets. Although claiming to protect "secularism," the bill is a direct attack on France's more than 5 million Muslims.
In San Francisco, more than 200 people marched from city hall to the French Consulate. Led mostly by women wearing the hijab, the lively crowd chanted "Shame on France" and "Religious freedom for all." Protesters carried signs that read "My scarf, my choice" and "Secularism does not equal religious oppression."
Speakers shared experiences about wearing the hijab while connecting the ban to the larger issues of religious freedom and human rights. Representatives from a number of interfaith organizations delivered more than 7,000 signatures against the bill to the French deputy consul.
The protest was sponsored by the Muslim Student Association and brought human rights, religious organizations and antiwar groups from across the Bay Area, including representatives from the Council for American-Islamic Relations, the Nation of Islam, International ANSWER, the Campus Antiwar Network and members of the Christian and Sikh community.
In Washington, D.C., more than 100 people turned out the same day--despite temperatures below freezing. Activists chanted slogans denouncing the French government for more than two hours and challenged the crowd to educate others about Islam. This was the second week in a row that there were demonstrations at the French embassy over this issue, and many of the activists involved plan to attend the March 20 protest against the occupation of Iraq and Palestine.
MADISON, Wis.--Community members and University of Wisconsin-Madison students came together to "welcome" Oliver North in mid-January. North came to Madison as an invited guest of the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), a pro-business lobbying group.
Ollie is best known as the brains behind the 1980s Iran-contra scandal, in which members of the Reagan administration sold weapons to the Iranian government and used the money to finance the Nicaraguan right-wing paramilitary contras. After his indictment, Oliver North was sentenced to a suspended prison sentence, which was later overturned on federal appeal.
The week of events began January 11 with a panel at the First Unitarian Church on the repercussions of free trade. Approximately 150 people attended the panel to ask speakers about a range of topics, from the necessity of drug trade to the Nicaraguan economy.
More than 200 protesters picketed January 13 at the swank Madison Club, the local "country club without a golf course." North spoke to a crowd of invited guests as the protesters outside chanted "Hey, Hey, Corporate Hack, Where'd you hide those guns and crack?" and held signs condemning both Ollie and globalization.
On January 14, the crowd returned to the Monona Terrace to protest Ollie's $30,000 speech to the WMC. The protesters gathered in the rotunda of the building and were prevented from entering the speech by a line of police officers.
This proved to be beneficial, as each of the invited guests had to make their way through the crowd. Creative People's Resistance provided street theater while the crowd chanted both anti-WMC and anti-North slogans.
SEATLE--"Gay, straight, black white--same struggle, same fight!" Seattle's Martin Luther King Day brought thousands of workers and activists to workshops at Garfield High School, and later to a rally in downtown. "Justice begins at home" was this year's theme.
Several unions--including the United Food and Commercial Workers, the International Association of Machinists and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union--were part of the multiracial crowd that participated in educational workshops that covered a diverse range of issues, such as racism and international questions.
After the march downtown, which was animated by chants against cutbacks and occupation, speakers engaged the audience in pertinent discussions. They focused on labor, class, free trade and war profiteering.
One militant speaker raised the argument that agreements such as the Free Trade Area of the Americas lead to adversity among working people here. The day's events served as a revitalizing force for local activist and labor groups.
SAN FRANCISCO--About 200 pro-choice demonstrators gathered here January 22 to defend abortion rights and celebrate the 31st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. Participants marched to the steps of city hall, chanting, "Not the church, not the state, women must decide our fate," and later gathered at United Nations Plaza to listen to speakers.
"It was not the judges that won Roe v. Wade back then," said one protester. "It was the movement of women just like us right here today." While a few women emphasized the need for a movement, most focused on urging people to vote for a Democrat in 2004.
The march was called by the National Organization for Women, NARAL Pro-Choice America and Code Pink, among others. Many of these same groups have called for a pro-choice "March for Women's Lives" April 25 in Washington. We need to continue to build the grassroots fight for women's rights.