WASHINGTON–Tens of thousands of anti-war protestors braved bitter cold temperatures here Jan. 18 to register their bitter opposition to Bush administration plans to launch a war against Iraq.
It was the third and largest anti-war protest since last April and it was part of a full weekend of anti-war activities celebrating the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, which was observed Monday Jan. 20. It was a global day of protest against the U.S. war on Iraq.
Simultaneous demonstrations were held Jan. 18 in more than 30 countries including Japan, Ireland, Egypt, Spain, Argentina, South Africa, Jordan, Belgium, Syria, Hong Kong, Russia, Germany and Britain. In San Francisco more than 100,000 protestors filled Market Street near the Civic Center, marching in a procession that took nearly four hours.
In Washington, each anti-war demonstration has been larger than the one before it. In April more than 100,000 turned out in a march organized by Arabs and Muslim organizations to protest U.S. support of Israel’s anti-Palestinian policies. In October that number swelled to more than 150,000 protestors, who completely encircled the White House and a half-dozen city blocks surrounding the executive mansion.
This march proceeded from the National Mall on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol to the U.S. Navy Yard a mile away, where protestors wanted to go but were rebuffed from entering to perform a mock “inspection” for “weapons of mass destruction” in the U.S. arsenal.
A United Nations Security Council resolution passed in October, ordering new weapons inspections in Iraq, and U.S. and British threats to single-handedly disarm that country’s alleged arsenal of such weapons–despite eight years of UN weapons inspections, and daily U.S. and British surveillance flights over two-thirds of Iraq’s territory for the last 12 years–is the pretext for a threatened U.S. invasion, in order to topple the government of that country’s president, Saddam Hussein.
Anti-war activists insist that the real U.S. motive is to win control over Iraq’s rich oil fields, which contain the second largest proven oil reserves on Earth.
“The President’s advisers thought it would be a cold day in Washington, before this country turned against the war. But it’s a cold day in Washington, and here we are!” Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) said to thunderous applause. The demonstrators are America’s “true patriots,” Mr. Conyers said, despite efforts by war supporters to label opponents as unpatriotic.
“The President can’t wait to launch war. And I come to tell you there is still time for the President to change his course” away from the planned war that “so few really support,” including U.S. allies, Mr. Conyers continued.
In signs they carried and in chants they shouted along the route, marchers constantly reiterated the historic 1967 proclamation by Dr. King at Riverside Church in New York City that the United States was then and remains, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”
From Vietnam to South Africa to Latin America, Dr. King said in the famous speech on April 4, 1967–exactly one year before he was assassinated–the U.S. was “on the wrong side of a world revolution,” and that social programs called The Great Society, which were instituted by then Pres. Lyndon Johnson, had been “shot down on the battlefields of Vietnam.”
The current series of demonstrations are the largest peace protests since the Vietnam era. Opponents to the U.S. war plan point to the fact that the massive anti-war marches have already begun, even though the war itself has not yet been launched.
“Dr. King, whose memory we honor today, reminded us that after a while, silence is betrayal,” Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) said in a statement read at the rally by the Rev. Lucius Walker, founder of Pastors for Peace.
“I totally oppose George Bush’s war on Iraq and voted against it,” Mr. Rangel’s statement continued. “Those who support war–including Congress–should send their own children to fight alongside the poor, the Blacks and the Browns.”
Black participation was substantially greater than in the previous anti-war protests. “One of the things that I’m particularly pleased about is that there are as many Palestinians, people from the Middle East, Whites, Latinos, as there was the first time, but there are far more Blacks included this time, which adds to the diversity, and it means that we really are developing a movement that I don’t think can be stopped,” the Rev. Walker told The Final Call.
“The only answer to Bush is this that we’re seeing right now, this overwhelming outcry against the war by the vast majority and the most diverse population in the U.S.,” he said.
The outcry was diverse and from all over the country. Protestors carried signs, some saying they’d come from Maine, from Mississippi, from Wisconsin, and even from Texas. Blacks who participated came in cadres while others came alone.
“I am against the war. I’m non-violent,” said Susie Wright from nearby Columbia, Md. She walked the march route on crutches, ahead of the main brigade. “I don’t believe that we should be in the war for oil or for the technology that Iraq has on de-salinization of water,” she said in an interview.
His union–the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1199 from New York–was marching “because it is workers who will die. It’s wages for workers, health care for workers, housing etc. for workers, workers welfare that get depleted when money is put into bombs and bullets and planes and things. Plus, it’s just wrong,” Lyndon Wilbert told The Final Call.
And while Blacks are still slow to join the organized anti-war movement, “the bomb usually falls on us harder than it falls on anybody else,” Mr. Wilbert said. “In any case, whether or not there was a grassroots Black issue, Black people and African people have always stood up for justice and human rights around the world, so there’s no contradiction.”
Other Black marchers agreed. “We have to be concerned about this war because it’s our sons and daughters that are going to die in Iraq, not Bush’s children, not Cheney’s children, our sons and daughters,” said Lawrence Hamm, chairman of Newark, N.J.’s Peoples Organization for Progress. “We have to be concerned about this war because they’re going to spend up to a trillion dollars on this war with Iraq. That is taking money from our cities, from our schools, from our hospitals, from education, from health care.
“We’re here today because the war is a Black issue. It’s a White issue. … It’s an issue for everybody, especially an issue for those of us who want peace and justice in the world.”
This is the beginning of a serious movement against the war in Iraq, Rep. Conyers said in an interview. The war, he said, is “absolutely not” inevitable. “The people of America can stop the war, just as they stopped other wars. We have to do what we did before, that is to march on Washington every week, every day.”
Otherwise the U.S. war “machine” will not stop in Iraq, warned the Rev. Walker. “The Bush agenda, as terrible as the war against Iraq is, it’s not limited to a war against Iraq. In the interest of globalization and the maximization of profits for the corporate rulers of the world, this is a war against all people of color who they consider expendable.
“I think he will be moving against other countries, against people of color in this country. The more we see globalization and continued mechanization, the more we’re going to see a denial of basic rights and justice for the people in this country, especially people of color, as well as people around the world,” said the Rev. Walker.