Largest Antiwar Labor Turnout in US History

May 4th, 2006 - by admin

United for Peace and Justice – 2006-05-04 07:41:31

NEW YORK (April 29, 2006) — The streets of New York City echoed today with the chants, songs and shouts of at least 350,000 people from across the United States. Mobilized around the calls to end the war in Iraq, to say no to any attack on Iran, and to support the rights and dignity of all people, including immigrants and women, the marchers brought a renewed urgency to the clear demand for change. The march featured the largest antiwar labor contingent in US history.

Initiated by a historic alliance linking a diverse coalition of national organizations — United for Peace and Justice, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the National Organization for Women, Friends of the Earth, Climate Crisis Coalition, US Labor Against the War, Veterans for Peace, National Youth and Student Peace Coalition, People’s Hurricane Relief Fund — the March for Peace, Justice and Democracy embodied the understanding that all those working for such goals must come together to right the reckless, dangerous, and wrong-headed direction the US government has been following.

The march kicked off at noon on a sunny Saturday in Manhattan. The lead contingent included Oscar winning actors Susan Sarandon and Mercedes Ruehl; Oscar-winning film director Jonathan Demme; writer/actor Malachy McCourt; NYC Transport Workers Union leader Roger Toussaint; Air America host Randi Rhodes; Michael Berg, whose son was the first US civilian hostage killed in Iraq; Reverend Jesse Jackson; Reverend Al Sharpton; Gold Star mother Cindy Sheehan; Faiza Al-Araji, a peace and women’s rights advocate from Iraq; John Wilhem, president of UNITE/HERE; National Organization for Women President Kim Gandy; and Anne Wright, the first State Department diplomat to resign protesting the Iraq War.

At the march’s conclusion in Foley Square, a vibrant sea of flags, banners and signs welcomed marchers to the “Peace and Justice Festival.” Issue tents featured speakers, literature, t-shirt sales, food and music highlighting the key issues of the wide-ranging March coalition: the war in Iraq and threats of war and US nuclear attacks on Iran, a Palestine tent featuring Q&A on Israel/Palestine and folkloric dance in an Arab- style “café,” counter-recruitment campaigners, a Labor tent featuring the NYC Labor Chorus, and others.

A special Children’s Peace Tent featured puppet-making and peace crane art projects, “Putt for Peace” and other games, face-painting, musicians and jugglers. Films, music, performances by the Raging Grannies and many other activities were featured as well.

According to Leslie Cagan, national coordinator of the 1,500-organization strong United for Peace and Justice Coalition, “An unprecedented range of organizations, committed to varied constituencies and a wide range of priorities, came together to march today. We all recognize that until we end this lethal war in Iraq — a war that is destroying so many lives in Iraq and here, and costing so many billions of dollars so desperately needed for rebuilding lives, cities and countries — that we cannot succeed at reclaiming our democracy.”

Marching in New York City
Tom Engelhardt /

[Note for Tomdispatch readers: It seemed appropriate, given the piece that follows, to recommend Anthony Arnove’s book, Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal. Clear and concise, it presents in a nutshell the background for, and the arguments for, getting our troops out of Iraq. It is the book to take with you, if you are planning to argue the case with family members, friends, co-workers, or others. Tom]

(April 30, 2006) — “I’m already against the next war.”

It’s the perfect day for a march. Sunny, crisp, clear, spring-like. The sort of day that just gives you hope for no reason at all, though my own hopes are not high for New York’s latest antiwar demonstration. I haven’t received a single email about it. Many people I know hadn’t realized it was happening. I fear the outreach has been minimal and despite all the signals of danger (of another war, this time with Iran) and of possibility (nosediving presidential approval polls, an administration in disarray, and the Republican Party in growing chaos), I approach this 30 block march with something of a sinking heart.

This is only reinforced by the scene that meets the full staff of — Nick Turse and me — as we leave the subway at 18th street and head east about an hour before the demonstrators are to step off. The streets are still largely empty of all but the police, gathered in knots at every corner. Their blue sawhorses (“police line do not cross”) rim the sidewalks seemingly to the horizon and everywhere you can see stacks of the metal fencing with which the NYPD has become so expert at hemming in any demonstration. None of this inspires great confidence.

Sometimes, though, surprise is a wonderful thing. Who would have guessed that several hours later I would be standing on Broadway and Leonard Street looking back at perhaps 20 packed blocks of demonstrators — bands, puppets, signs by the thousands, vets by the hundreds (if not the thousands), huge contingents of military families, congeries of the young, labor, women, the clergy, university and high school students, raging grannies, radical cheerleaders, and who knows who else — an enormous mass of humanity as far as the eye can see and probably another 10 to 15 blocks beyond that.

It was enough to make the heart leap. I had no way of counting, no way of knowing whether what I saw was the 300,000 the organizers claimed or merely the vague “tens of thousands” mentioned in most media reports. It was, to say the least though, a lot of people, mobilized on limited notice.

As someone who lived through the era of Vietnam protests, this demonstration had quite a different feel to it, and not just because of all the military families (and the surprising number of people I talked with who knew someone, or were related to someone, who had served in our all- volunteer military in Iraq), but because no one in this demonstration had the illusion that the White House was paying the slightest bit of attention to them. The same, by the way, might be said of the mainstream media. On the ABC and NBC prime time news this night, the reports on this huge demonstration, sandwiched between what would be billed as major stories, would zip by in quite literally a few seconds each. In each case, if you hadn’t been there, it would be easy to believe from the reporting that this event had essentially never occurred.

As I often do, I spent as much time as I could prowling the crowd, talking to as many protesters as possible. A demonstration of this size is a complex beast, one I would hesitate to characterize. I’ve tried instead to offer below some of the voices I ran across — or at least as much of each of them as my slow hand could madly scribble on a pad of paper.

As modest as the cross-section I encountered was, I had the feeling that, while the march was calm, lively, and upbeat, many of the demonstrators had no illusions about what the future might hold. The ones I met were almost uniformly disappointed in, or disgusted with, the Democratic “opposition,” fearful of a new war in Iran, realistic about how hard it will be to get the President’s men (and so our troops) out of Iraq, and yet surprisingly determined that those troops should be brought home as soon as humanly possible.

Perhaps such demonstrations are now not for the Bush administration, nor really for the mainstream media either, but only for us. Perhaps they are a reminder to all those who attend and to those numbering in their hundreds of thousands, if not millions, on the political Internet that we are here, alive, and humming. That is reason enough to demonstrate.

Throughout these years, signs — individually made, hand-lettered, sometimes just scrawled (not to speak of masks, puppets, complex theatricals, elaborate visuals of every sort suitable for a world of special effects) — are the signature aspect of such demonstrations. Here are some of the signs that caught my eye, not necessarily the wildest among them, but ones that give something of the flavor of the event:

“From Gulf to Gulf, George Bush, a category 5 disaster” “Drop Bush, Not Bombs.” “Fermez La Bush” “No ProLife in Iraq.” “1 was too many, 2400 is enough” “War is terrorism with a bigger budget” “Axis of Insanity” (with George, Condi, Don, and Dick dressed as an Elmer Fudd-style hunter) “One Nation under Surveillance” “GOP George Orwell Party” “How Many Lives per Gallon?” “War Is Soooooo 20th Century” “Civil War Accomplished in Iraq-Nam” “Give Impeachment a Chance” “I’m Already Against the Next War” “Expose the lies, half-truths, cut and paste rationales for going to war” “Mandatory Evacuation of the Bush White House”

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