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The antiwar movement returns to the streets
Making our voices heard

February 2, 2007 | Page 7

ELIZABETH SCHULTE reports on the antiwar demonstrations across the country on January 27.

WE'RE BACK--and we're determined to stop this war. That was the message that hundreds of thousands of protesters took into the streets on January 27--in Washington, D.C. and cities across the country, from San Francisco to Austin, Texas.

In the largest antiwar mobilization in Washington, D.C., since September 2005, at least 250,000 people came from across the country for a march called by the national antiwar coalition United for Peace and Justice.

In several other cities, protests initiated by newly formed antiwar groupings attracted thousands of people.

Nearly 10,000 marched in San Francisco, taking the protest to a longshore picket line. In Seattle--a city that has been ground zero in the fight for justice for Lt. Ehren Watada, who is facing a court martial trial February 5 for being the first officer to refuse deployment to Iraq--3,000 people marched, at one point shutting down an army recruiters station. Protests drew 5,000 in Los Angeles, 2,000 in San Diego and 1,000 in Austin, Texas.

In Washington, thousands packed the grassy area in front of the stage on the Capitol mall to hear speakers that included Rev. Jesse Jackson, actors Jane Fonda, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, and antiwar soldiers like Navy Seaman Jonathon Hutto.

"I encourage the youth of America to rise up and tell our government, 'Changes have to be made,'" 12-year-old Moriah Arnold, who organized an antiwar petition drive at her school in Massachusetts, told the crowd.

Actor and anti-Vietnam War activist Jane Fonda took the podium to speak out against the war--for the first time in 34 years. "Silence is no longer an option," she said. Fonda singled out the importance of military families and service people mobilizing. "Their presence is critical, and we should acknowledge their courage," she said.

Protesters cheered on the speakers, many of them holding up handmade signs. "600,000 Dead on a Pack of Lies," said one sign. "Jail to the Chief," said another. "Impeach" was a big favorite.

Ilse Sugarbaker held up pages from "Faces of the Fallen," a Washington Post series of photographs of some of the thousands of soldiers who have died in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars. "I chose to carry this because this is what the war is about," she said, standing alongside her daughter. "I protested this war before it was a war, I've attended every rally against this war, and I will continue until it's over."

Rostam Pourzal of the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran was also part of the crowd in D.C. "In the past until now, so many Iranians have been reluctant to take a stand again for peace, against the insanity of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East," he said. "We are also here to say that the right-wing Iranians do not speak for us. We are here to speak for ourselves."

With the exception of a few Democrats who are regulars at antiwar events, like Reps. Maxine Waters and Dennis Kucinich, Democratic politicians avoided the rally.

Rally organizers emphasized the importance of lobbying Congress as a next step. But for portions of the crowd, the rally represented a step toward linking up with others to build a stronger antiwar movement.

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SIGNIFICANTLY, ANTIWAR veterans had a strong presence at the demonstration, reflecting increased organizing in recent months, including among active-duty soldiers.

"What you're seeing is the outgrowth of what four years of war and imperialism breeds within society, and that's resistance and dissent," said Jonathan Hutto, who is one of the originators of the Appeal for Redress petition campaign for active-duty military personnel. "In the spirit of what the GI movement was during the Vietnam War, that dissent is now growing within the active ranks of the military.

"The only way we're going to be able to stop this war is when those men and women who are called to serve again begin to question, begin to probe, begin to criticize, begin to resist, begin to stop the war machine."

This was the first antiwar march for Adrienne Kinne, a former member of the Army. "I was really hoping with the Democrats taking Congress that Bush would finally realize that he needed to make some changes," said Kinne, who joined Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) on the day of march. "But the changes he's making are in the completely wrong direction."

"I just can't sit back and not do anything anymore...I always thought that these antiwar marches were a little bit too 'out there' for me, so I wasn't really sure whether or not they were appropriate, but I definitely think this is awesome, a great demonstration of people supporting the troops. People like to say that people against the war don't support the troops, but I think they do more than anybody else."

Like Kinne, Timothy Baker joined the IVAW during the protest. Baker just got out of the Army after serving two tours in Iraq--one for 16 months and another for 12. "It's a wonderful experience just to be a part of this, to be a part of history, to say I spoke out when something needed to be said," Baker said.

Many protesters were thinking about how to put the pressure on Democrats to put up a real fight against Bush.

"The way we look at it is that Congress can't oppose the war and fund it at the same time," said Larry Syverson of Military Families Speak Out (MFSO), who has three sons in the military. "The November elections showed a mandate against the war, but Bush is ignoring it. Now we have a Democratic Congress--they have the purse strings--so we're turning our backs on the White House and marching on Congress."

John Yorks, who traveled from Syracuse, N.Y., to march, agreed. "We have to make the Democrats understand that they don't have any kind of lock on our support," he said. "We have to make them understand that they're going to have to do what even Nancy Pelosi said they were sent to do, which is end the Iraq war."

Unions had a stronger presence than at previous national antiwar demonstrations. Service Employees International Union/1199 organized a large, mostly African American contingent, with several buses coming from New York City.

Student antiwar groups, like the Campus Antiwar Network, Students for a Democratic Society and World Can't Wait, turned out in force, as did activists from campuses with recently formed activist groups.

Chris Schwartz, a member of the coordinating committee of the Campus Antiwar Network, made the daylong bus ride with other students from the University of Northern Iowa.

"I would like to give a message to the newly elected Congress that the voters delivered a mandate in November, and that mandate was to get the hell out of Iraq, and that means they've got to cut all the funds to do it," Schwartz said. "We just need to keep building local antiwar movements across the country. When we have a critical mass of people out on the streets across this nation, from all walks of life, then we will see change happen."

Ryan Haney was helping hold a banner representing antiwar activists from the Kennesaw State University near Atlanta. He traveled on one of two buses that carried students from seven different colleges in the state. "Georgia was very dead a few years ago, but the war has mobilized a lot of people organizing their own group," he said.

Imir Weise from University of Georgia added, "It's important to take from protests like this motivation and the realization that we aren't alone in the struggle to promote justice, to promote peace. At the very least, organize, get into that group that's progressive on campus. If there isn't one, establish it."

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IN OTHER cities across the U.S., protests made important breakthroughs in giving voice to previously unheard antiwar forces.

-- In San Francisco, 10,000 antiwar protesters jammed downtown streets in a march organized by the newly formed January 27 Committee. Demands of the march included "Stop racist attacks on Muslims and Arabs" and "End the occupation of Palestine."

Carolyn Ho, Lt. Watada's mother, told the rally about her son's bravery in following his conscience by not participating in an illegal and immoral war.

Todd Chretien of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) pointed out the importance of organizing independently of the Democratic Party. "Obama and Clinton have signed up with Nancy Pelosi to call for a redeployment of troops, leading to more air strikes and death squads," he said.

Protesters then marched 25 blocks to Pier 33, where union workers of the Inland Boatmen's Union and Masters, Mates and Pilots Union were picketing the union-busting tactics of Hornblower Cruises and Events and its affiliate company, Alcatraz Cruises LLC.

-- In Seattle, 3,000 people turned out in the city's Central District, exceeding organizers' expectations by more than four times.

Organized by the January 27 Coalition to Bring the Troops Home, the march was kicked off by the IVAW, Veterans for Peace, Gold Star Families for Peace, and supporters of Lt. Ehren Watada. Favorite chants included "No more blood for oil, U.S. off Iraqi soil!" and "Occupation is a crime, Ehren Watada should do no time!"

When marchers arrived at a military recruiting station, anger reached a fever pitch. Police set up barricades, preventing Iraq veterans from delivering a booklet of the 3,000-plus soldiers who have been killed in Iraq to the recruiters. As protesters yelled "Shut it down!" the recruiters were forced to scurry inside and close up for the rest of the day.

The march proceeded to the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center for a meeting featuring Lt. Watada. As one of his last opportunities to speak out publicly before his trial, Watada argued that he is not the criminal--the U.S. war is.

"Our country is being led in the wrong direction--I will never stand for that," he said to a standing ovation. "I will never enable an illegal and immoral war. I don't care what they do to me. This war is for the benefit of a tiny few and innocent people are paying the price in blood. It is simply immoral and arrogant to believe that this superpower can and should tell the people of a sovereign country how to live their lives. We need to include all Americans in this fight against oppression, violence and injustice. We will win!"

Other speakers included march organizer Jesse Hagopian; Elizabeth Falzone, whose cousin was killed in Iraq; Aaron Dixon, former Black Panther and Green Party Senate candidate; and Chanan Suarez-Diaz, a decorated Navy medic who served with Marines in Ramadi and the president of the Seattle chapter of the IVAW.

-- In Los Angeles, 3,000 people gathered for a protest that marched from Democratic Party headquarters to the Federal Building. The rally ended with Vietnam-era soldier-activist Ron Kovic, musician Tom Morello and antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan. "This is just the beginning," said Kovic. "You all will take this country back!"

-- A coalition of more than 20 activist groups in Austin, Texas, came together to organize Saturday's 1,000-strong protest demanding "Troops out now!"

Traffic came to a standstill on Congress Avenue as protesters marched from City Hall toward the State Capitol Building, with posters and banners proclaiming the antiwar messages "We Support War Resisters" and "College, Not Combat."

"The Iraq war is part of the broader aggression that's been distributed around the world by the U.S. and its proxy allies," said University of Texas student Luke Peterson. "The war in Iraq is another example of what is going on in Palestine...it's imperialism and occupation."

Tom West of the GI Rights Hotline said, "I have a son and the schools cannot afford to educate him. They've put his life at great risk because they can't afford to hire enough teachers. We have a tissue drive every year, just to get the teachers tissues so that the kids can blow their noses. Meanwhile, we've spent a third of a trillion dollars so far on this war, and it's going to cost a trillion before it's over."

Hart Viges of the IVAW served a year in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division. "After my experiences in the war, I realized that there is no enemy," said Viges. "The humanity that is lost in war has to be gained back."

-- In San Diego, 2,000 demonstrators marched downtown on January 27 in the largest antiwar gathering in this city since the U.S. invasion almost four years ago. The march and rally was organized by a coalition of about 20 groups, including the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice, Veterans for Peace and the ISO.

Demonstrators included many who were new to antiwar protests, veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, along with long-time activists. Students came from local from high schools and colleges, including a contingent of about a dozen from San Diego State University.

Gil Field of the San Diego Veterans for Peace expressed the widely held view that the demonstration marked a rebirth of the antiwar movement in San Diego, calling it the "beginning of a larger engagement of the Bush administration on the war."

The January 27 protests are a key step in building a strong movement that can stand against the war in Iraq. The sizeable turnouts show the sentiment for activism--and the opportunities for activists to organize this sentiment into action.

Anthony Arnove, Sam Bernstein, Laura Brady, Rick Greenblatt, Alan Maass, Jerald Reodica, Eric Ruder, Sarasvati Ting and Dave Zirin contributed to the report.

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