UNITED STATES: 'It was time to add our voice'

Issue 

No to Bush's war on Iraq! That message rang out at huge protests at
both ends of the United States on October 26, and in smaller demonstrations
across the country. More than 100,000 people turned out on October 26 in
Washington, DC, for the first national demonstration against the Bush gang's
drive for a new war on Iraq. As many as 75,000 gathered in San Francisco
that same day. And in other cities - from Augusta, Maine, to Denver to
Seattle - dozens and hundreds and thousands came together for protests.
All told, these were some of the largest anti-war demonstrations in the
US since the Vietnam War. ELIZABETH SCHULTE and TODD CHRETIEN report on
this milestone for the anti-war movement.

"I'm overwhelmed."
Those were the words of a long-time activist who organised for the October
26 anti-war protest in San Francisco. "I went to my union meeting last
week, and the two shop stewards who usually aren't very political were
already discussing if we should march as a group wearing our union jackets."

On the other side of the country, Josh Greene helped to organise a group
of people from Boone, North Carolina, to come to their first anti-war protest.
"I've done stuff in my hometown, but never something on the international
front", he said. "Internationally, there's a feeling that this is wrong.
In the mountains of North Carolina and the Greater Appalachian area, it
was our time to come down and add our voice to it."

The new anti-war movement showed its full breadth at the October 26
demonstrations in Washington, DC, San Francisco and across the country.
Speaking from the podium at the rally in Washington - called by the anti-war
group ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) - were civil rights leaders
Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and actor Susan Sarandon. "I am
here because I am tired of being frightened to speak out", Sarandon told
the crowd. "Bush says you're either for us or against us. I say to you
Mr Bush, this is what democracy looks like."

Sharpton challenged the politicians in Washington to heed protesters'
demands. "There may have been some that folded in the Senate, but there
are those of us that will not bend, will not buckle, will not bow and will
not in any way defer to a war machine built on profits at the expense of
people", he said. "Why do we march? Marching is how blacks got the right
to vote. Marching took Lyndon Johnson out of Vietnam and sent him back
to Texas, where we're going to send George Bush."

Clarence Thomas, secretary-treasurer of the Longshore and Warehouse
Union (ILWU) Local 10 - whose members were forced back to work when President
Bush invoked the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act - was on hand to connect Bush's
war on US workers with the war drive against Iraq.

Several veterans also took the podium to speak out against the war.
Charles Sheehan-Miles of Veterans for Common Sense served in the first
Gulf War - and decided to become a conscientious objector. "We killed a
lot of people in the Gulf", he said. "You probably saw the picture of people
standing up and surrendering. I never saw that. I was in a combat unit
on the front lines. For me, [becoming a conscientious objector] was the
only way I could keep my sanity and live with myself afterwards. I'll be
fighting, too, for the people who are in service today to make sure they
get taken care of. For the Gulf War veterans of 1991, that didn't happen."

Later, protesters took to the streets of Washington - led by the ILWU
drill team - in an electrifying march around the White House. Chants of
"Black, Latino, Arab, Asian and white. Stop this war, no more, no more.
Defend our civil rights!" and "Exxon, Mobil, BP, Shell, take your war and
go to hell", rang out. The march was so large that at one point, cheering
marchers winding back to the original rally site had to stop and wait for
protesters who had just begun marching.

Protesters ranged from veterans of the movement against past US wars
to people who had just started organising anti-war groups in their hometowns.
Sylvia Carter Denny's last protest was against the Vietnam War. Today,
she was in Washington with almost 100 others from Yellow Springs, Ohio,
including a busload of high school students. "The president wasn't really
even elected", she said. "And now this war could launch our whole world
into chaos."

Protesters voiced their demands with homemade signs - such as "Fight
hunger, not Iraq". John Hallock from Philadelphia wore a large photo of
the cousin that he lost in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "Protest
is very important, because our leaders aren't carrying out the will of
the people", he said. "The will of the people is peace." But perhaps the
most popular slogan was "No blood for oil".

Unfortunately, some rally speakers, while voicing their opposition to
a war on Iraq, gave their support for Bush's War on Terror. Jesse Jackson
said in his rally speech that the US had "unfinished business" with al
Qaeda - and even listed the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq as a US war worth
fighting.

But Jackson's arguments were by no means unanimous among protesters.
Indeed, among those who may have supported the War on Terror in the aftermath
of the 9/11 attacks, there was real questioning of Bush's motives all along.

Michael Letwin of New York Labor Against the War talked about why people's
ideas were shifting. "We may have been a small anti-war labour minority
in the days after 9/11, but as the Bush administration threatens war not
only in Iraq but Colombia, the Philippines, and just about everywhere in
the world, we're not so alone anymore", Letwin said.

Now activists are home from the protests - and setting their sights
on spreading the anti-war message in their neighbourhoods, schools and
unions. "About 75 students met up early in the morning to go over to the
protest together from our campus", Ed Hernandez of the San Francisco State
Students Against War group said at the Bay Area demonstration. "The protest
has really energized people to go back to campus and plaster the place
with flyers for our next anti-war meeting."

After the rally in Washington, some 250 students came out for a networking
meeting sponsored by Students Against the War in Iraq at George Washington
University - to make connections for the struggle ahead.

The October 26 protests were an inspiring first step in the task of
standing up to the Bush gang's drive to war.

[From Socialist Worker, weekly paper of the US International
Socialist Organization. Visit .]

From Green Left Weekly, November 6, 2002.

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