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Marching against four years of war

By Brian Jones and Elizabeth Schulte | March 23, 2007 | Page 12

FROM THE Pentagon outside Washington, D.C., to the streets of Los Angeles, tens of thousands of people gathered across the U.S. to be part of international protests on the fourth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

In Washington, as many as 10,000 people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial on March 17 and marched through freezing winds to the Pentagon. The spirit of protest continued in other cities and towns across the country over the next several days.

In Washington, Earlene Evans, a D.C. resident, carried a picture of her son, David, who has been in Iraq for eight months. "I'm here not only for my son, but for all of the sons and daughters," Earlene told Socialist Worker. "My son doesn't like this war. He's against it. He's lost very close friends, and he wants to come home."

At the front of the march were several young veterans holding the banner of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). The IVAW contingent was followed by Vietnam Veterans Against the War, which led the famous 1967 march on the Pentagon.

Sean Gomez, a Navy seaman who retired recently because of the Iraq war, explained what his first protest meant to him.

"I wanted to mingle, and I started meeting people," Gomez said. "My first time around I was for being there [in Iraq]. Now there's no way in hell I would ever go back. After I got out, I started to become a person again, not a robot. I was flash-backing and started questioning my morality. Then I started questioning their morality. Why would they send me to do that? This all happened in the last six months."

Many marchers expressed anger at the government's immense spending on war and occupation.

"There are so many better places that money could go," said Matt Snyder from Swanton, Ohio. "How many people could we feed? How many people could we pay to send to college? Bush is going to do what he wants unless someone stands in his way. That's what I'm trying to do today."

Many demonstrators were surprised to see a sizeable turnout of right-wing pro-war counterprotesters, who shouted obscenities at marchers, including antiwar soldiers. "I had a guy tell me he was going to kill me," Gomez recalled. "I laughed at him."

Marchers nevertheless drowned out the pro-war group, chanting, "Support the troops, that's a lie. They don't care how many die!"

"I challenge them to find out the truth about what happened in New Orleans," Malik Rahim, founder of the Common Ground Collective in New Orleans, said about the counterprotesters. "I challenge them to do what Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War did--they came down and helped us to rebuild!"

One of the most vibrant sections of the march was composed of youth and students, led by the Campus Antiwar Network (CAN).

Chris Cain, who traveled with four friends from Richmond, Va., hoped the demonstration would help to build the antiwar movement. "It's very important to get the attention of the powers that be, but it's also important for people who might feel apathetic to see this protest and know that it's not going away."

Her friend Damien agreed. "People who see us march might be pushed over the fence about the war," he told Socialist Worker. "Obviously, the war's not going to end with one protest, but hopefully we're radicalizing people."

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THE D.C. demonstration was part of an international effort to speak out on the anniversary of the war. More than 100,000 people turned out in Madrid, Spain; 30,000 in Rome, Italy; 3,000 in Istanbul, Turkey; and 1,000 in Greece.

"This is Italy's contribution to a demonstration taking place all over the world," commented Franco Turigliatto, a dissident left-wing member of parliament who recently voted against the Italian government's policy of deploying troops to Afghanistan.

In New York City, on March 18, about 7,000 people marched in a protest called by United for Peace and Justice. Dozens of contingents, from Code Pink to the IVAW to the United Federation of Teachers, mobilized.

"We walked in response to the pleas of the prisoners and their hunger strike," veteran peace activist Frida Berrigan told Socialist Worker, describing her 2005 march with members of Witness Against Torture to the Guantánamo Bay prison camp. "It's part of the whole war, these egregious awful conditions, but it's something we can do something about. Public opinion has turned against it. People are outraged and ashamed that these acts are being done in their name."

Nate Franco of the Adalah-N.Y. Coalition for Justice in the Middle East carried a huge photograph of the apartheid wall sealing the West Bank from Israel, with the caption "Security fence? No apartheid wall!" "We have to always remember it's about collective action," he told Socialist Worker. "The issue of Palestine has to be talked about if you are talking about peace in the region."

That night, antiwar activists turned up the heat on the Democrats in a protest called by Code Pink NYC and the International Socialist Organization (ISO) outside a fundraiser for Sen. Hillary Clinton. "We're sick of her rhetoric--if she's against the war, what is she doing as one of the most powerful Democrats in the Senate to end it?" said Nancy Kricorian of Code Pink NYC.

Across the country, in San Francisco, about 15,000 people protested on March 18. Many marchers said they'd protested every year since before the war began. A vibrant student contingent of around 100 high school and college students led chants of "College not combat, education not occupation!"

In Portland, Ore., more than 15,000 people showed up under the rally slogan "Stop the War, Troops Out Now!" Speakers included Iraqi-Palestinian writer and activist Raed Jarrar, who said, "Iraqis in the last 80 years have had seven revolutions. We know how to overthrow a dictator and change our government. The Iraqi people are the only people that have the capability of rebuilding Iraq."

Over 80 organizations cosponsored the event, ranging from the American Friends Service Committee, IVAW, Military Families Speak Out, Service Employees International Union Local 49, and the ISO.

In Los Angeles, a spirited multiracial crowd of 10,000 that included several Muslim and Palestinian contingents marched through the heart of Hollywood on March 17. A rally featured Helga Aguayo, the wife of Agustín Aguayo, a soldier who was sentenced to eight months in a court-martial hearing earlier this month for refusing to serve a second tour in Iraq.

In Seattle, vets also played a key role in the 3,000-strong march called by ANSWER on March 18.

"The antiwar movement here must stand in solidarity with soldiers and veterans who are turning against the war," said the IVAW's Chanan Suarez-Diaz, speaking at the rally. "If no one drives the tanks or humvees, the tanks and humvees don't move...Soldiers are the ones carrying out this war on the ground, and they can say 'No more!' The war machine will literally come to a halt. We need to organize to get to that point. More and more soldiers are turning against the war and we have to stand with them."

Green Party member and Iranian immigrant Aram Falsafy said, "Despite the fact that the U.S. is losing in Iraq, Bush is making threats and moves against Iran. We can't listen to their lies. Iran only poses a threat to U.S. economic and political power in the region--not to us. We must stand up against any attack on Iran and say 'Hands off!'"

The next day, Seattle had another march, with 1,000 people in a "Troops Out Now" youth-student-and-soldier feeder march joining 1,000 more protesters at a rally at the federal building.

In Eugene, Ore., Lt. Ehren Watada--the first Army officer to take a stand against the war--spoke to 2,500 protesters.

"They may imprison or torture or take away our lives," he said. "But they can never take away our freedom to choose what is right and just." He added, "I was afraid of what [the Army] would do to me, but I was more afraid if I did nothing."

In San Diego, a 1,000-strong march capped a week of antiwar activity, which included a protest at San Diego State University and a sit-in occupation at the offices of Rep. Susan Davis, an "antiwar" Democrat who consistently votes for supplemental appropriations bills to fund the war.

Also on the West Coast, 400 protesters came out in Tacoma, Wash., and 300 demonstrated in Ventura, Calif. That experience was repeated in state after state--1,000 protesting in Austin, Texas; 1,000 in Harford, Conn.; 500 in Rochester, N.Y., 150 in Providence, R.I., 150 in Columbus, Ohio.

In Fayetteville, N.C., home to the Fort Bragg military base, 500 people gathered, including a large showing from military families and organizations. "It wasn't until I got over there and saw the injustice that was going on that I started speaking out," Matt Southworth, a soldier who recently joined the IVAW.

"We're also trying to reach out to people in the service, to give them a place to come if they're against the war," said IVAW Mid-Atlantic Regional Organizer Paul Abernathy. "We're also lobbying with Congress for an end to the occupation but also for veterans' benefits. Also, we want reparations for the Iraqi people. We destroyed their country, and we need to help rebuild it, but it must be rebuilt by Iraqis."

Sam Bernstein, Brian Chidester, Todd Dewey, David Florey, Rick Greenblatt, Brian Huseby, Matt Ivey, Pranav Jani, Josh Karpoff, Bill Keach, Evan Korfeld, Rachel Odes, John Osmand, Kevin Prosen, Maria Reyes, Kyle Schmaus, Robert D. Skeels and Lee Wengraf contributed to the report.

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