Protests mark fifth year of the occupation

TO MARK the fifth anniversary of the U.S. war on Iraq, activists in cities across the U.S. held demonstrations and other events calling for an end to the war and occupation.

--In Portland, Ore., a demonstration called by the citywide PDX Peace coalition drew thousands downtown on March 15, packing four city blocks to protest five years of occupation and demand the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Members of more than 100 organizations--including several unions--and local businesses co-sponsored the event, which included a march, rally and workshops.

Though nationally some antiwar organizations have downplayed the importance of large demonstrations, as Megan Brooker from the Oregon chapter of Military Families Speak Out said, "The majority of the country opposes the war, but mass mobilizations are the only time when large numbers of people congregate to express this opposition...The sheer numbers of people present forces business as usual to come to a halt and forces passerbys to pay attention and think critically about the war."

--In Los Angeles, approximately 5,000 people marched in Hollywood toward the CNN building to demand an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Speakers included Greg Akili of African Americans Against the War and Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney, who linked the war abroad to the war at home, stating that while we are spending billions of dollars on war during an economic recession, people at home are suffering because they don't have access to single-payer health care.

--In San Diego, Calif., hundreds of protesters gathered in City Heights, a predominately working-class and multiracial section of the city. Chants of "No justice, no peace, U.S out of the Middle East" mixed with the sound of horns from passing cars supporting the end of the war. The crowd then marched to Teralta Park for an afternoon rally.

--In San Francisco, approximately 500 people attended a meeting featuring prominent antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan and many others, followed by a march to the city's War Memorial building. Joe Wheeler of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) told the crowd, "You can't imagine how important support is to soldiers. And this is real support: bringing them home."

--In several other cities, including Boston, Seattle and Chicago, activists gathered to watch live coverage of the testimony being given at "Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan," sponsored by IVAW in Washington, D.C., March 13-16.

In Boston, dozens of activists gathered at both the First Parish Church in Harvard Square and at the University of Massachussetts-Boston (UMass). Approximately 200 people came to the First Parish Church throughout the day, many who were new to antiwar organizing.

At UMass in Boston, approximately 50 turned out for the event, organized by Campus Antiwar Network (CAN). A handful of students who were veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan and the first Gulf War attended as well.

In Chicago, CAN chapters at Northeastern Illinois University, DePaul University and the University of Illinois at Chicago hosted a Winter Soldier simulcast on March 14 at DePaul. Despite the fact that it was the middle of finals week, approximately 40 people attended, many staying for the entire five-hour event. After the simulcast, people held discussions about what they could do to support IVAW and how to help build antiwar opposition.

In Seattle, activists gathered to watch the first section on "Rules of Engagement" panel from Winter Soldier, which detailed war crimes committed on a daily basis by the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Two activists from the Seattle Central Community College Antiwar Collective discussed organizing a follow-up campus screening of the event. Activists were inspired by the courage and insight of these antiwar soldiers, who are helping to lay the basis for a potential rebuilding of the antiwar movement.

Sam Bernstein, Peter Chordas, Amirah S. Goldberg, Rick Greenblatt, Kurt Krueger, Matthew Owusu-Afriyie, Khury Peterson-Smith, Adam Sanchez, Jeremy Tully and Kathryn Weber contributed to this article.