by Michael Leon –
Peace March on Washington 10,000s Demand End to Occupation of Iraq Call for Domestic Focus on Jobs, Healthcare and Education
By Michael Leon
WASHINGTON, DC (October 25, 2003) — Amid falling domestic support for President George W. Bush, tens of thousands poured through the streets of Washington today, calling for an immediate US withdrawal from Iraq and a reordering of American social policies.
Gathering at the ellipse facing the Washington Monument, the crowd demanded an end to the occupation of Iraq in favor of increased social spending for “.jobs, education and healthcare-not war,” as anti-war literature and posters read.
Many also called for the repeal of the Patriot Act on the occasion of its second anniversary.
The End the Occupation of Iraq march as a public event represents the first massive mobilization since April of the American peace movement that flowered during the run-up to the Iraqi war in the fall and winter of 2002-2003. Protests during this period rivaled those of the great civil rights and peace marches in the 1960s and 1970s.
“We came to march for peace. We want to express our opinion that Mr. Bush has not done the right thing by the American people or the people in the Middle East with this war,” said Joyce Paulson who flew in from Palm Springs, California. “I think that people who are currently afraid to speak up or are ignoring the voices that they are hearing, the echoes they are hearing, will suddenly realize that the peace voice is growing. I want the man up there, Bush, to take out his earplugs and pay attention to what his constituents are saying.”
Another marcher, Tyler Klein rode a bus from Chicago, Illinois. She said: “I’m thrilled to be here among all the anti-war people. And I have taken the message to George Bush that this war is unacceptable and illegal for the people of the entire world, and that we should bring the troops home now.”
Dan Dupree from Jacksonville, Florida, held a sign reading, “Republicans Against an Illegal War.” He said, “I voted for Bob Dole. I like moderate Republicans. I think they manage my money well. But this war is completely illegal under international law, and it is wrong.”
Marching from the Washington Monument through Seventeenth Street around the White House and Lafayette Square to Fifteenth Street to Pennsylvania Avenue and Constitution Avenue back to the Washington monument, the large throng of people swelled through the early afternoon as they were joined by 100s in late- arriving buses. The march stretched back numerous blocks, reportedly encircling the White House grounds.
Apparent attitudes and moods through the crowd can be described as ranging from festive and joyous to angry and indignant. Hundreds lined the streets, cheering the procession as it approached and passed. As a huge red banner unfurled from a window high over Fifteenth Street the crowd erupted in applause and shouts as the words “Bush Lied. Fire Him” were discerned.
Some signs and banners in the march read “Not in Our Name,” “Money for Jobs, Not War,” “There Comes a Time When Silence Is Betrayal,” “$87 Billion for Health Care, Not $87 Billion for Warfare,” “Liar, Liar, Liar,” and “Bush Is a Lying Weasel.”
March Coalition Claims Huge Success
A wide coalition of citizen, labor, student, and religious groups participated in the march, joining the two main organizing bodies-Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) and United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ)-and thousands of unaffiliated individuals and families with small children.
The march also featured many from military family-affiliated groups, such as Veterans for Peace, Veterans for Common Sense, Military Families Speak Out, and Bring Them Home Now-referring to the 130,000 American troops currently stationed in Iraq.
Organizers say the march attracted over 100,000. Media reports said police expected between 40,000 and 50,000; other reported police estimates put the crowd size at some 20,000 to 10,000. Police no longer issue official crowd estimates, so all police estimates reported in the media are unofficial.
“The movement has gotten a very big gust of wind in its sails at the very moment that the Bush administration is slipping in the polls,” said Brian Becker of ANSWER, as reported in the Washington Post.
Participants from some 150 cities and 40 states comprised the march, according to organizers. Large parades took place later in the day in San Francisco (several thousand) and numerous other American cities; and simultaneous demonstrations were held around the world.
Some anti-war activists have expressed apprehension that because the gigantic international protests of 2002-2003 (millions simultaneously taking to the streets) were ignored during the run-up to the war, other protests-including this first major anti-war gathering since the Iraq occupation began-will certainly be discounted by this administration, emphatically so now that the administration wears the public relations fig leaf provided by the recently- passed United Nations Security Council resolution.
Mainstream media coverage of the End the Occupation of Iraq march is represented by the Washington Post headline (October 24, 2003-the day before the protest) reading “Protesters Try to Revive Anti-war Effort,” an implication that the anti-war movement is dead or otherwise in need of resuscitation. The conservative Washington Times’ coverage on October 25th presented a flattering account of the march. The Times piece reads: “. Thousands of anti-war protesters rallied in the nations’ capital Saturday and delivered a scathing critique of President Bush and his Iraq policy.” The Times piece also noted the passion and diverse makeup of the protesters.
Democrats and the Peace Movement
The massive protest march with its Main Street USA flavor representing widespread grassroots opposition poses a political challenge to the Iraq policy that the Bush administration had bet its presidency on since it first began its public relations offensive for the war in October 2002. Some observers see the march as having a galvanizing effect on popular opposition to the war, further emboldening democratic presidential candidates in their criticism of administration policy.
“It’s clear that the concern over the war in Iraq is growing, and the democrats are trying hard to make this into a campaign issue. On the other hand, the Bush administration has said that its course is firmly set, and it is determined not to move. So whatever impact the march is likely to have is most likely to play itself out in the presidential campaign. It would suggest to the democratic candidates that there are votes to be had in opposing the president on this issue,” said Professor Donald Kettl, professor of political science and director of the La Follette Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Other observers stress that the peace movement’s and alternative media’s devastating rebuttal to the Bush administration’s grounds for war have been subsequently adopted by the mainstream media and major figures of the democratic party, including some of the declared presidential candidates.
In the crowd were 1,000s of Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) for President buttons and signs. Of the nine major democratic candidates for president, only Reverend Al Sharpton addressed the crowd. Sharpton along with former attorney general and peace activist Ramsey Clark-who is spearheading an impeach George W. Bush effort-drew the loudest applause of the numerous speakers.
In his address, Sharpton said, “This double talk that we must withdraw with dignity is the same double talk they used in Vietnam. You can’t come out with dignity because you lost your dignity when you went in in the first place. You can’t get truth out of a lie. They lied to bring us in. They lied about the danger. Now they want us to believe liars on how to come out. You need to stop lying. You need to protect our troops. We’re the real patriots. We want to stop the misuse of American lies in Iraq.”
Eighty-Seven Billion Dollars
The march occurred as the United States Congress is poised to pass an 87 billion dollar spending package out of conference committee after contentious debate for continued military and economic reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The administration’s spending request has remained widely unpopular with the American people since President Bush first made his case for the funding in a national address on September 7. Many members of Congress who voted for the spending said they did so with reluctance and under protest because they believed the stated administration rationales for invading and occupying Iraq were false, misleading or not well-conceived, especially in light of perceived neglect of American domestic needs vis a vis Iraqi domestic needs but that the members believed they had to vote for the spending to support the troops deployed overseas.
American Support for the US Military
Although there remains widespread reluctance among the American people to commit troops abroad on both tactical and moral grounds, a posture known as the Vietnam Syndrome, a solid majority of the American populace maintains a quasi- romantic attachment to its military troops, and will often tacitly support military deployments because of this sentiment.
This well-known tendency toward supporting the troops was a real-life wag-the- dog scenario capitalized on by the Bush administration that manufactured support for the war in Iraq in a public relations campaign by asserting that Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with al Queda and that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction-two contentions used to divert attention from unpopular domestic policies. Believing that the best way to support American troops is to take them out of harm’s way and to bring them home to a distinct ideal of a healthy society, the protest crowd linked its demand to end the occupation with the creation of an economy that is bolstered by domestic policies that increase jobs, improve education, and reform health care, and has found popular support for its positions. Military and Their Families Increasingly Perturbed
Veterans for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, and Bring Them Home Now had a substantial presence at the march.
Gerald Farrah from Indianapolis, Indiana, is president of chapter 49 of Veterans for Peace. He served in the army from 1960 to 1963 and was present in Europe during the Berlin Airlift.
“We are here in Washington D.C. to protest the Bush policies of the Patriot act and also of the war on Iraq primarily. This is unsupportable war; it is war for oil resources. It is a stupid policy, it is stupid war and somebody ought to be held accountable for it,” said Farrah. “The military veterans coming back from Iraq have been treated worse than any war veterans since the Vietnam and the Korean Wars. They have to pay for their meals in the hospital, like eight dollars a day. They are getting poor medical care. We are just starting to hear the feedback from the troops coming back from their extended tours over there. It’s appalling what Congress has done with veteran’s benefits, giving them the shaft.”
Nancy Mansfield from Burnsville, North Carolina, held a placard with a picture of her 20-year-old son Adam who is scheduled to be deployed in Iraq in March 2004 shortly after having completed his tour of duty in Afghanistan. Her sign reads: “Love My Solider. Hate My War” with a picture of her son in a full military uniform holding an automatic rifle, a rifle that Mansfield said is known in the military as a “‘wife,’ because a solider has to sleep with it.”
Said Mansfield, “I’m saying I object. I object to this war. I didn’t think there was any justification for this war from the beginning. I didn’t sleep for eight months straight at one time. I worry constantly. I’m scared to death. I’m terrified my boy will not come home.”
President Bush was at the Camp David presidential retreat returning from an extended trip overseas and reportedly did not see the crowd marching past the White House.
Michael Leon has been published nationally in The Progressive, In These Times, . and. CounterPunch. He can be reached at: email@example.com.)