UNITED STATES: Protests erupt as Washington's war of conquest begins

Issue 

BY DANI BARLEY

DETROIT — As word of the commencement of mis-named Operation Iraqi Freedom spread across the world, activists in the belly of the beast also took to the streets to voice their intense opposition to what they labelled an "unjust and immoral war". March 20 became one of the heaviest days of anti-government protest in many years.

Anti-war protesters used a range of tactics, from die-ins and civil disobedience to candlelight vigils and rallies in front of government buildings, in a mass outpouring of opposition to the war on Iraq. Many activists chose sites representing the government or staged sit-ins to disrupt traffic in major cities. "I like the idea of shutting down commerce and the city to counteract Bush's economic motives for this war", said Eric Anholt, 19, of Portland.

San Francisco was the site of the largest demonstrations, with activists blockading streets and buildings. The intense emotions of protesters combined with a police crackdown on civil liberties that led to literally thousands of activists being arrested. "People are just upset. They don't want this war and Bush won't listen", protester Margaret Jackson said.

San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown expressed his support of the San Francisco police, which used pepper spray and batons against demonstrators. "I think the police are doing exactly what they should do — and that's exercising the greatest amount of restraint in an effort to keep the streets clean."

About 1000 protesters demonstrated outside the West Los Angeles Federal Building, briefly clashing with police and forcing the closure of one of the city's busiest intersections at rush hour. In Philadelphia, demonstrators blocked entrances to the downtown federal building, forcing police to detour motorists away from the area.

"We're outraged", said San Diego resident Steven Skoczen. "We have a government that is making a war on Iraq against the will of the United Nations, people worldwide and the people of this country. It's unjust. It's immoral." San Diego saw hundreds take to the streets once word spread of the outbreak of war.

In Chicago, students walked out of class and into the streets, staging a sit-in on the steps of one government building, leading to dozens of arrests. Additionally, police estimated nearly 10,000 marchers assembled and snarled afternoon rush-hour traffic along the city's main arteries, repeatedly breaking through lines of police on horseback and riot gear.

In New York City, demonstrators braved frigid winds and heavy rains to gather in Union Square by the thousands. In the capital, about 100 people gathered outside a park near the White House. Atop the stroller of two-year-old Margot Bloch her mother, Nadine, had written: "Be nice. No hitting. Peace now."

Similar demonstrations were held in cities across the country, with more protests planned in the coming weeks. United for Peace and Justice, the coalition responsible for calling the massive February demonstrations in the US issued a statement on its web site: "With the war now having begun, we call on you to join with us and other groups around the country in visible and passionate protest."

Anti-war activists also had to face small but hostile pro-war demonstrations. At a counter-demonstration in Mississippi, one person carried a placard reading, "Support the US or keep your mouth shut".

In Louisville, Kentucky, pro- and anti-war demonstrators engaged in a heated debate. "The debate is over, we've had the debate", Robert Strickland, an army veteran, said as he waved a US flag. "It's time to rally around our troops and rally around our leaders."

"We support them so much that we don't want one to die in an unjust war", countered Mike Slaton.

Many veterans and families of military service personnel have come out against this war. Veterans Against the War member Peter Fossel explained, "This America is not the America I bled for. This America is the aggressor, and this America is the type of nation that I risked my life to fight against."

In New York, which took the brunt of the September 11, 2001, attacks that President Bush has repeatedly cited as an example of the threat to America, "September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows" condemned what they called an illegal and immoral US war. A group spokesperson elaborated, "We do not want other innocent families to suffer the trauma and grief that we have endured".

And in Detroit, one woman stated her reasons for demonstrating were to protest the existence of an economic draft, citing the disproportionate numbers of minorities who enlist in the armed forces as the only means of supporting themselves and their family.

Jennifer Abu-Awad expressed her frustration at the lack of attention from the Bush administration to the mass of people taking to the streets: "Bush may not consider us important enough to pay attention to, but the rest of the world will."

From Green Left Weekly, March 26, 2003.
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