Sending a Message to Washington
Under the warm sun on Oct. 26, 2002, they marched down celebrated Constitution Ave. in our nation's capital, by the tens of thousands, young and old, voicing their grievances, demands, and hopes, too, and carrying their colorful banners and signs, while also blowing their whistles, and beating their drums. The antiwar movement, 2002-version, in all its theatrical glory, has arrived in full force.
Lynn Stewart, criminal defense lawyer, and arch foe of Attorney General John Ashcroft's assault on our revered Bill of Rights -- which includes his unlawful monitoring of attorney-client confidential conversations -- set the tone for the huge event. She said from the podium to wide applause, "Stop them now! Stop the war machine. Our brothers and sisters around the world will be annihilated, if we don't stop them."
Noted New York actress and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) member, Susan Sarandon, put it this way, when she addressed the large crowd: "This war is about diverting our attention away from the Enron scandal and the economy. Let us hate war in all its disguises. Today, all of us together represent what democracy looks like. We are here to take democracy back."
The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., President of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, also spoke at the rally. Before he took the podium, he said, with respect to the Pro-Iraq War Resolution, "The Congress is more in alliance with peace today than it was at the beginning of the Vietnam War. Those numbers in Congress will change as we increase our activities. The more opposition there will be, the more isolated George Bush will become." Jackson is a long time supporter of justice for the Palestinians. He last met with PNA President, Yasser Arafat, on July 29, 2002, in Ramallah.
It was indeed appropriate that the first unit in the line of march, objecting to the Bush-Cheney gang's planned military attack on Iraq, was a contingent from San Francisco, representing the embattled International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). Their huge banner read, "An Injury to One is an Injury to All." Its precision-tuned "Drill Team," all African-Americans, were in top form as they set the pace for the parade. The ILWU, since the days of the legendary labor leader, the late Harry Bridges, has always been in the forefront of progressive causes. The Bush-Cheney administration recently forced the feisty union back to work under the unfair terms of the pro-Big Business leaning Taft-Hartley Act.
The protesters came from the plains of Nebraska, too. "We're passionately against this war with Iraq," said Margaret Kozzan, a worker at the U. of Nebraska. Her group of 50 activists made a 25 hour bus drive so that they could carry their "Nebraskans for Peace," banner in the parade.
"We've been on the road from Vermont, since 11 p.m. last night, " said Johnson State College senior, Lindsey Crane. "I'm tired, but I'm here in Washington today to let everyone know that I disagree with this war. I don't think it has anything to do with Saddam Hussein. I really think it's about distracting the public from the problems that we have in this country."
When I reminded Ms. Crane that America's Revolutionary War started in New England, she said, "No one should ever take us for granted. Our voices deserve to be heard." Ethan Allen, a hero of that war, and leader of the fabled "Green Mountain Boys," would have been proud to hear the spirited words of Ms. Crane.
Peggy Misch of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, told me, "I wanted to show by my physical presence in Washington today that I am opposed to the Bush Administration's extremely hostile foreign policy towards Iraq. It reeks of imperialism and aggression." Ms. Misch said that about 800 activists made the trip up to Washington from the tarheel state.
One of Columbia, Maryland's leading activists is Leslie P. Salgado. She heads up the "Howard County Friends of Latin America. "This war will benefit the rich and the wealthy," she said, "in the U.S. and not the poor. It's real purpose is take care of the military establishment and the oil barons."
Doris Rausch, another activist, from Columbia, added, "I saw a sign which said: 'Get Israel out of our Congress.' I believe that, if we could do that, we wouldn't even be contemplating this atrocious war. Israel has its nefarious reasons for wanting this war with Iraq, and Congress almost unfailingly does what Israel wants."
Signs referring to an "Axis of Evil," that included photos of the slippery Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense; the shadowy chicken hawk, Richard Pearl; and National Security Advisor, Condoleeza Rice, could be seen raised in the multitude, along with banners demanding "End Palestinian Apartheid;" "No War on Iraq;" "No More Blood for Oil;" "Bush is a Warmonger; "Muslim Students Against War; and, "Money for Jobs and Education: Not for War." Placards denouncing Israel's repulsive Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a "war criminal" were also prevalent in the boisterous throng.
As the enthusiastic marchers, at least 50,000, got closer to the finish line of the event, near the Executive Office Building, which is close to the White House, this loud chant went up among their ranks: "Blacks, Latinos, Arabics and Whites; No racist war, No more, No more; Defend our Civil Rights." They even had a rousing drumming group, "Rhythm Workers Union," who entertained the crowd with a continuous "jamming for justice" gig.
There were so many organizations present at the affair, it would be nearly impossible to list them all. The "Act Now to Stop War & End Racism" coalition, (A.N.S.W.E.R), deserves great credit for getting this important initiative off the ground and running.
The bottom line: The Oct. 26 mass rally and demonstration was a resounding success. It was also a last warning to the War Hawks!
William Hughes is the author of Baltimore Iconoclast.