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In the streets on September 24
Voice of the antiwar majority

September 30, 2005 | Pages 6 and 7

ELIZABETH SCHULTE and ERIC RUDER report on the antiwar demonstrations in Washington, D.C., and around the country.

FROM ALL 50 states and all walks of life, they poured into the capital. On buses and trains and planes, in cars and vans, they made their way to Washington, D.C., to take a stand against the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

So many people responded to the call to march against the war that at 11:30 a.m., when speakers began addressing the crowd, tens of thousands were still fighting traffic jams and the crush of people to make their way to the Ellipse, with its clear view of the White House.

The crowd roared with approval as speaker after speaker--including Rev. Jesse Jackson, actress Jessica Lange and former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark--took to the podium to make the case against war.

Organizers say as many as 300,000 came to the march, making it one of the largest--if not the largest--antiwar demonstrations ever in Washington.

Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, who jumpstarted the antiwar movement by camping outside George W. Bush's vacation ranch in August, received especially loud cheers. "If it wasn't for the thousands and thousands of people that came to Camp Casey, if it wasn't for the millions in support of us, I'd still be sitting in that ditch," Cindy told the crowd. "But you guys got me out of the ditch, you got us to our nation's capital. And we mean business, George Bush!"

The massive turnout for the march may have been the weekend's highlight, but Washington wasn't the only city with a large protest, and the march wasn't the weekend's only event.

In San Francisco, as many as 50,000 took to the streets making it one of the largest demonstrations there since the war began. In Seattle, 5,000 marched, chanting, "Money for levees, not for war" and "No more blood for oil, U.S. off Iraqi soil."

In San Diego, a march of 50 demanding justice for Palestine and relief for Katrina victims fed into the main march of 2,000. "Freedom is on the march," Pablo Paredes, who was sentenced in May to two months' confinement and three months' hard labor for his refusal to deploy to Iraq, told the crowd. "It's on the march when we confront the Minutemen. It's on the march when we protest the war. It's on the march anytime we come out to protest."

In Denver, more than 2,000 marched. In Phoenix, some 1,500 took to the streets. Across the Atlantic, organizers in London reported that up to 100,000 took part in a huge antiwar march, timed to coincide with the U.S. demonstrations--and put maximum pressure on Tony Blair at the start of this week's Labour Party conference.

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THE ISSUE of ending the occupation brought protesters together, but many were quick to point out the connections of the war in Iraq with other issues.

"The resources that go into illegal imperial wars are the resources taken away from our true homeland security, which includes education and health care, but it also includes levees, evacuations plans and other systems for caring for our citizens," one speaker in Washington, Suheir Hammad, a Palestinian poet and activist, told Socialist Worker.

"We begin with 'Bring the troops home,' because it feels closest to home. But we can't stop there," said Suheir. "We have to continue to make the connection between not just the war in Iraq, but where we are in Afghanistan and throughout South America, the Bush administration's support for Israel--all of these are connected to where our resources are spent and where they aren't spent."

The manmade disaster that gripped New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was at the forefront of everyone's minds.

"Our domestic policy and our foreign policy are part of an equation of racism--fighting people who are not white in Iraq and abandoning folks who are not white in the Gulf states," Rev. Graylan Hagler, a Washington, D.C., minister who's also the national president of Ministers for Racial, Social and Economic Justice, told Socialist Worker.

A sea of homemade signs gave voice to the anger that many have been anxious to express in a national protest after two-and-a-half years since the invasion. One sign that kept appearing was "Make levees not war," underlining the warped priorities of the Bush administration that was so quick to wage war on Iraq, but slow in responding to the catastrophe in New Orleans, whose main victims were poor and predominately African American residents.

This was the message that University of New Orleans student Lester Perryman, who helped carry a banner leading the "College Not Combat" contingent, brought to the march. "The hurricane was a big disaster, and it's really sad that our government can ship troops over to Iraq in 24 hours, but we can't get adequate help until three days later," said Lester, who is currently a transfer student at New York University. "The president says he's trying to enhance homeland security and protect us. There was money set aside for levee problems that weren't fixed. Instead, this money was diverted to the war in Iraq."

Well over 1,000 students from dozens of campuses gathered to march in the Campus Antiwar Network's (CAN) College Not Combat contingent, with signs that read "Relief Not War."

"We're here to rebuild the student antiwar movement," said Leela Yellesetty from Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. "We've been doing counter-recruitment at our campus in New Haven and have kicked the recruiters off every time. It's making a real dent because recruitment numbers are down. They're trying to tell people that if they can't afford college, you should join the military, but people aren't buying it."

Several students arrived in Washington directly from the South, where they had traveled to lend a hand with the grassroots relief effort.

University of Wisconsin-Madison freshman Adam Porton went with nine other students from his campus to the hurricane-effected area. "We originally went to do direct hurricane relief in New Orleans," Adam said, "but Rita coincided with our path, so we went to Jackson, Miss., to drive supplies to the NAACP headquarters and helped them organize them."

Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, a CAN member from NYU, said, "I think this contingent represented a genuine coming together of the student antiwar movement in a way that hasn't taken place before.

"Having so many individual schools coming together gave us a sense of a real national student antiwar movement. The next step is to deepen that sense. CAN is sponsoring an anti-recruitment conference, 'On the Front Lines,' on October 22-23 with Military Out of Our Schools in the Bay Area. Since our generation is on the front lines of this war in terms of military recruitment, we have to be on the front lines of the antiwar movement as well."

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AS PEOPLE jammed the streets at the beginning of the march route, Maureen Glover was organizing others to help her carry the pictures of the more than 1,900 service people killed in Iraq. She had strung the pictures together in a long line. "I lost a family member in 9/11," Glover said, "and I'm outraged that Bush used the surge in patriotism, and manipulated and deceived us into going to war in Iraq."

A lot of the protesters had already taken part in demonstrations against the war, but for many others, it was the first national protest they'd been to.

Scott, a special education teacher from Rochester, Minn., who helped carry the Minnesota Antiwar Committee's "You betcha, we say no to war" banner, came on one of the 25 buses from the state. "I can't believe this many people showed up," said Scott. "They just keep coming. I think it's really a statement about how much everyone cares, and we're tired of this war."

Marchers clogged the area in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., taking the opportunity to yell at the White House, where--even though Bush was not in town--the rooftop swarmed with armed guards.

Gene Tebo took a bus from Detroit. "I was drafted in 1966," Gene said. "I just went over to the Vietnam War Memorial, and I have about 10 guys I know personally who were killed over there. This kind of march shows that the emperor really does have no clothes. I feel it's an absolute honor to be able to be a part of something that might make a little difference down the line to somebody else."

Organized labor made its presence felt, with a large contingent from U.S. Labor Against War and a speaker at the main event.

"This is an historic moment for the labor movement to take a united stand against this war and the lies of the Bush administration," said Nancy Wohlforth, a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Council. "The Bush administration doesn't give a damn about what happens to the people of New Orleans, but we in the labor movement are going to do our damnedest to see that the money, job training and rebuilding go to the people of New Orleans who are doing the jobs, not to Halliburton. Guess who got the first contract in New Orleans? Halliburton! And guess who is stealing the Iraqi country and its resources? Halliburton!"

Attorney Lynne Stewart also spoke at the march. She was convicted of "aiding terrorism" for no more than providing her client with a vigorous defense.

"My conviction had a chilling effect on the whole defense bar," Stewart, who's still awaiting sentencing, told Socialist Worker. "There's no defense lawyer that handles cases in quite the same way anymore--in particular, the absolute assault on attorney-client privilege so that no one feels really secure in talking to their client and believing that the government isn't listening in to every word they say. I'm no friend of John Roberts, but in his confirmation hearings, he said that when he was arguing for Reagan, he was just representing a client. That's all that I was doing, representing a client.

"By being out here today, I'm showing that this is my movement--the American movement to make things better, equal and inclusive, including the right of self-determination for all peoples all over the world. We have to know that the power of people can change things."

Before the march in Washington, 400 people--primarily members of Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Gold Star Families for Peace and Military Families Speak Out--attended a vigil for the fallen at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, followed by a candlelight procession to the Vietnam War Memorial.

And after the march, more than 700 people packed the First Congregational Church to hear British member of parliament George Galloway speak at the final stop of his two-week North American tour. Galloway was joined at the podium by Iraq veteran and war resister Camilo Mejía; Rose Gentle, the mother of Scottish soldier Gordon Gentle, who was killed in Iraq; Elias Rashmawi of the National Council of Arab Americans; and Ahmed Shawki, editor of the International Socialist Review.

The mood was electric as several familiar names were recognized in the audience: independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader, South African poet and anti-apartheid activist Dennis Brutus, and Ward Reilly of Coalition Against War and Injustice in Baton Rouge, La., who organized a "peace train" from Louisiana.

After the meeting, Rose Gentle explained why she had found the day such an awesome experience. "It was really a sad day for the mothers carrying crosses for their sons and daughters," she said, "but it was a proud day at the same time for America to let George Bush know that enough is enough."

Jeff Bale, Jocelyn Blake, Jim Bullington and Vicky Jambor contributed to this report.

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