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U.S. anti-war movement roars its outrage

Published Sep 29, 2005 1:00 AM

Public opinion in the United States has shifted definitively against the war in Iraq, and that change in the underpinnings of the political scene was reflected here on Sept. 24, when the anti-war movement came roaring back with the largest demonstration since the war began in March 2003.

Washington, D.C., Sept. 24.

See slides of Sept. 24 in D.C.

A crowd estimated by organizers at 300,000 was packed so densely in the streets around the White House that it took hours for marchers to move at all. Meanwhile, a rally in the Ellipse, south of the White House, gave voice to a broad spectrum of groups and individuals who emphatically agreed on the main
slogan of “End the war—bring the troops home now!”

Anger at the Bush administration was intense. Young and old carried signs, some in salty language, ridiculing and condemning the architects of the war as liars, profiteers and war criminals. People sporting dollar signs on their clothing wore grinning Bush and Cheney masks and waved hands red with fake blood.

Katrina brought the war home

Placards and speakers blamed the suffer ing of the poor, mostly Black, people of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina on the diversion of funds to the Pentagon that should have been spent on infrastructure repair. Some excoriated the U.S. rulers as racist, saying they treat both Iraqis and people of color here as expendable.

“Make levees, not war” was a popular sign, a takeoff on the 1960s slogan of “Make love, not war.” One hand-made sign, carried by an African-American woman, read, “No Iraqis ever left me on a roof to die.”

The magnitude of the disaster along the Gulf Coast, and the total lack of preparations to evacuate the people and help the survivors, has brought home to millions the full costs of Washington’s right-wing agenda. Now they see that the enormous funds spent on military aggression have been stolen from badly needed services, even as the same group of super-rich capitalists who plot wars of world domination are enjoying lucrative tax cuts.

Curtis Muhammad of Community Labor United in New Orleans called the disaster a “war committed against Black descendants of slaves.” Pointing out that those who survived are now scattered all over the country, he urged the crowd to search for them in their areas and contact www.communitylaborunited.net with information on where they are. “We want the unions to assist in training people to build homes and put our lives back together,” he urged.

A multinational Katrina Contingent, organized by the Troops Out Now Coali tion, was cheered as it marched through the streets chanting loudly behind a banner reading “From New Orleans to Iraq, Stop the war on the poor.” It was backed up by rousing percussion provided by Filipino activists.

Vets, military families, soldiers

A young man in full Marine dress uniform walked through the rally crowd carrying a peace sign. People came up to shake his hand. Many speakers made the point that Bush, not the movement, is the real enemy of the troops, many of whom are in the military because of racism, pover ty and a lack of job opportunities.

Anne Roesler, whose son is in Iraq, said the troops “want us to speak out, because they can’t. It’s up to us to bring them home. The government won’t do it.”

Anita Dennis’s son, Darrell An der son, refused an order to shoot an Iraqi woman and her children as their car approached a checkpoint. Today he is in exile in Canada. “George Bush should go to prison, not my son,” said his mother. “I call on Congress to impeach George Bush.”

The call to impeach Bush was also the thrust of a talk by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, whose tireless efforts against U.S. aggression in the Gulf began with the first U.S. war on Iraq in 1991. Clark called the Iraqi city of Falluja “the Guernica of our time” and said “shock and awe” was a war of aggression, “the supreme international crime” according to the Nuremberg trials. Guernica is the Basque town German bombers destroyed when Hitler intervened on the side of the fascists during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s; the town’s suffering was made famous by the Pablo Picasso painting of the same name.

Veterans of the current Iraq war and occupation, as well as of earlier wars, were prominent in the march and spoke at the rally. Some spoke of tragic suicides of returned soldiers who couldn’t live with the memory of atrocities they had been forced to commit against civilians.

Drawing much applause was Cindy Sheehan, whose determination to confront Bush at his Texas ranch this summer started the Camp Casey movement—anti-war encamp ments around the country named after her son, who was killed in Iraq.

Sheehan, like many other speakers, urged the crowd to go back home and build “a people’s movement.” While urging people to stay for a day of lobbying and civil disobedience on Monday, she castigated the politicians, including the Democrats: “We are going to Congress to say, ‘Shame on you for giving Bush the authority to invade Iraq.’”

(Sheehan was arrested on Sept. 26, along with about 370 others who sat down in front of the White House chanting “Stop the war now!” They were charged with demonstrating without a permit.)

Despite the prevailing anti-war sentiment in the country, only one elected official addressed the crowd in the Ellipse—Cynthia McKinney. This African-Ameri can member of Congress from Georgia has been one of the very few to consistently oppose the war. She assailed the political establishment for the horrendous situation in New Orleans, calling them “syba ritic men wrapped in self-righteousness [who] worked to save their jobs instead of the people.”

Stronger labor presence

The organized labor movement had a stronger presence at this event than in earlier anti-war marches. Besides large contingents from individual unions, especially 1199 Health and Hospital workers in the Service Employees union, a top official from the AFL-CIO spoke for the first time.

Nancy Wolforth, executive vice president of the labor federation, said, “If we weren’t illegally occupying Iraq, there would have been enough troops to rescue the people of New Orleans. ... We of the labor movement will do our damnedest to see that the money and jobs go to the people of New Orleans, not Halliburton,” refer ring to the construction company formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney that has profited handsomely from the Iraq War.

Fred Mason of U.S. Labor Against the War ended his talk with the slogan “End the occupation, bring the troops home now!,” also reflecting a shift in the union leadership, which was slow to embrace the demand for withdrawal.

A year ago Black trade unionists organized the Million Worker March, which combined economic demands with unambiguous opposition to the war. Brenda Stokely, a leader of that movement and also a member of the Troops Out Now Coalition, which organized a major New York anti-war rally that marched from Harlem to Central Park, called on Sept. 24 for a principled struggle to build a fighting movement not wracked by “opportunism, competition or sectarianism.”

Over the last year, local labor councils all over the country have adopted resolutions demanding the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Now the leaders of some of the biggest unions and of the labor federation have yielded to the pressure from the rank and file and come on board.

A united demonstration

A few months ago it appeared there might be two separate demonstrations in Washington on Sept. 24. After the ANSWER coalition called for a demonstration for that date, it was supported by Troops Out Now Coalition, National Coun cil of Arab-Americans, Muslim Ameri can Society Freedom Foundation, Haiti Sup port Network, Alliance for a Just and Lasting Peace in the Philippines, National Lawyers Guild, Al Awda and others.

However, United for Peace and Justice, the coalition that had last organized a large protest at the Republican National Convention, announced a separate rally on the same date.

In mid-August the coalitions agreed on a joint rally and march. This was widely applauded at the grassroots level.

The two main coalition organizers—Brian Becker for ANSWER and Leslie Cagan for UPJ—expressed great satisfaction at the large turnout as the crowd swelled throughout the day.

Anti-imperialist solidarity

At this rally, unlike some in the past, support for the Palestinian struggle was expressed by many signs and speakers from UPJ as well as from ANSWER and others. There were many Arab and Muslim speakers, despite the many arrests, deportations and detentions meant to intimidate their communities.

Palestinian speakers included Elias Rashmawi of the National Council of Arab Americans, Michel Shehadeh of the Amer i can Arab Anti-Discrimination Com mittee, and Mohammed Abed of Al Awda, who called for a democratic, secular state in Pales tine instead of the Israeli apartheid state.

Mounzer Sleiman spoke for the Nation al Council of Arab Americans and described the climate of terror in the U.S. created by “Homeland Security” and FBI sweeps.

While there was no speaker representing the people of Afghanistan, who have been cruelly abused by the U.S. ever since the progressive government that took power there in 1978 was opposed and eventually overthrown by Washington, a stage banner did bring up the continued occupation of that country by U.S. troops.

The struggle in the Philippines against the U.S. puppet regime of Gloria Maca pagal Arroyo was represented by several organizations, including Gabriela Net work, Bayan, the Campaign for Justice Not War in the Philippines, and the Alli ance for a Just and Lasting Peace in the Philippines.

Haiti was also highlighted as a country whose popularly elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was overthrown in a coup designed and executed by Wash ington. Ben Dupuy, a former Haitian ambassador at large and now head of the National People’s Party, explained that an International Tribunal to investigate these crimes had held its first session the night before at George Washington University.

Ricardo Santos of the Socialist Front of Puerto Rico brought the tragic news that the FBI had just assassinated a legendary figure in that country’s independence movement, Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, and called for solidarity from all progressives.

Gloria La Riva spoke for the National Committee to Free the Cuban 5, whose convictions in a Miami court were recently overturned because of the extreme bias against socialist Cuba in that area. The five had been monitoring violent anti-Cuba groups when they were arrested and charged with conspiracy. La Riva urged everyone to pressure the government not to retry the men, who are still in prison after seven years.

Yoomi Jeong, acting secretary general of the Korea Truth Commission, had been scheduled to speak. In an interview with Workers World, she explained that the third-largest occupation force in Iraq—3,000 troops—comes from South Korea, and that the Seoul government has spent $400 million so far on the war, even though the South Korean people have demonstrated repeatedly to bring these troops home.

Washington is spending billions of dollars on new Patriot missile bases in South Korea that threaten the entire area. Jeong said the Korean movement is demanding that the U.S. honor the joint statement it just signed in Beijing and deliver a light water reactor to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as agreed in the newly proposed peace mechanism for the Korean peninsula. Jeong was accompanied by members of the Korean American National Coordinating Council, New York chapter.

Among the many notables also on the program were British MP George Galloway of the Stop the War Coalition, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Ralph Nader, Jessica Lange, poet Amiri Baraka, Andy Thayer of the Gay Liberation Network and attorney Lynne Stewart, a civil rights attorney who faces a 30-year sentence for vigorously defending a Muslim client convicted of terrorism.

Strike Against Poverty,
Racism and War

The Ellipse rally was closed by Larry Holmes of the Troops Out Now Coalition, who urged everyone to think in terms of “shutting the war down.” He announced a Strike Against Poverty, Racism and War on Dec. 1, the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a city bus to a white man and was arrested.

“Many activists around the country have been discussing this date,” said Holmes, and urged the crowd to make it their next priority. Joining TONC in calling for the action are the Million Worker March Movement, Teamsters National Black Caucus and Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice. Information on the Dec. 1 events will be posted on the www.troopsoutnow.org Web site.