100,000 march on Pentagon
WW in 1981: New movement unites against war, racism, cutbacks
Published Aug 8, 2008 7:57 PM
WASHINGTON, D.C., May 3—It was the opening shot of a new progressive
movement in this country. Over 100,000 people marched on the Pentagon here
today under the slogans: stop the U.S. war buildup, U.S. hands off El Salvador
and no intervention in Southern Africa. They marched to demand money for jobs
and human needs, not for the Pentagon. They marched to stop racist violence, to
end racism, repression, and lesbian and gay oppression, and to stop the
Sponsored by the People’s Anti-War Mobilization/May 3 Coalition (PAM/May
3), today’s militant and anti-imperialist action was co-sponsored by over
1,000 individuals and organizations across the country. More than 120 cities
organized for the event, making it clear that this is a new movement that
speaks for the many millions who are sick and tired of war, of economic
attacks, of racism and all forms of bigotry. This was the biggest anti-war
demonstration in a decade.
WW photo: Neville Edwards
For those who could not make it to Washington, similar demonstrations were held
in the West today. Some 15,000 took to the streets under the same banners in
San Francisco, and 5,000 came out in Seattle. Other actions were held in
Tucson, Denver and Kansas City.
This action had broad support without subordinating the revolutionary struggle
and support for the liberation movements. Protesters represented a cross
section of the grassroots of this society: rank-and-file trade unionists,
oppressed Black, Latin, Native and Asian people, women, lesbians and gay men,
progressive clergy, environmentalists. There were contingents from liberation
struggles around the world.
The march itself was led by hundreds of Black people, especially Black youth,
brought there by the National Black United Front, and marching 25 abreast
behind the lead banner which read, “Jobs, not war—U.S. out of El
This wave of militant, chanting humanity marched from the Lincoln Memorial area
past the State Department and then over the Memorial Bridge to end their
protest at the Pentagon, the seat of imperialist war plans.
From the time the first contingent arrived, it took the marchers
three-and-a-half hours to file into the Pentagon rally site where they were
greeted by a bright green banner which read, “Stop the U.S. war
drive!” attached to part of the entrance to this military fortress.
This was a massive march. All in all, almost 500 buses filed into Washington.
Some 160 buses came from New York City alone, more than 20 brought by the trade
unions. There were 35 buses from New Jersey, 27 from Boston, 25 from
Philadelphia, many from upstate New York, seven from Detroit, seven from Rhode
Island. People came from Texas to participate. Car and van pools were organized
from cities near and far.
A sizeable delegation came from Florida, including Haitian refugees. Students
came from all over, and many swamped button sellers for one of the most popular
official march buttons, “Defend Atlanta’s children, not El
Salvador’s junta!” Participants in the last anti-war movement came,
as well as many, many people who had never been on a demonstration before in
Speakers at two rallies ranged from working-class and progressive leaders here
to representatives of the national liberation struggles, including Arnoldo
Ramos of the FDR [Frente Democrático Revolutionario] in El Salvador. For
the first time at a major anti-war mobilization, representatives of the gay and
lesbian struggle, the Native struggle and the Palestinian struggle were given a
Solidarity messages to the march were announced from Black U.S. Congressmen
John Conyers and Ron Dellums, from Philip Agee, from the Democratic
Revolutionary Front of El Salvador, from the African National Congress, from
the South West Africa People’s Organization, from a group of progressives
in Juneau, Alaska, and from the Guardian newspaper.
Led by most oppressed
There were many firsts in this demonstration. Unique to an anti-war movement in
this country was the participation of many oppressed people. The National Black
United Front and the Black Vets for Social Justice brought six busloads from
Brooklyn’s Black community alone.
Other Black, Latin, Native and Asian and poor people participated from around
the country, including two busloads of welfare recipients from Boston. Welfare
mothers of Detroit carried a banner, which read, “Bread, not
According to Larry Holmes, PAM leader and march organizer: “Oppressed
people played a leading role in building for this march, and the slogans of the
march addressed their needs. This is a real departure for the
Holmes was the 1980 Vice Presidential candidate of Workers World Party. Other
WWP members played important roles in many aspects of the march
Following the Black contingent was a large delegation of rank-and-file trade
unionists, Black, white, Latin, women and men, organized and unorganized,
documented and undocumented, skilled and unskilled, chanting against budget
A lead banner in this contingent, decided upon by the unions in New York who
supported May 3, read, “American trade unionists say: Money for jobs and
human needs, not war machines!” And unemployed autoworkers from
Detroit’s UAW [United Auto Workers] Local 900 carried a banner
exclaiming, “Money for jobs and human needs, not war!”
Local 41 of AFGE [American Federation of Government Employees], which
represents government workers in D.C., including those who work in the Pentagon
itself, held high a banner which read, “Beat back the attacks on
government workers and on social services.” Especially visible at this
march were autoworkers and municipal workers, most hard hit by the economic
crisis and the budget cuts.
While a number of union presidents and other officials endorsed the march, the
push for participation came strongly from the rank and file. Many unionists put
pressure on their leaders to provide the buses. The many oppressed people and
women who participated exposed as untrue the commonly held misconception that
the American labor movement is mainly white and male.
Many unions from New York City, including Hospital Workers District 1199,
Furriers, Hatters, and municipal workers from AFSCME [American Federation of
State, County and Municipal Employees] DC 37, were mainly from oppressed
nationalities. A Needle Trades banner held by Latin workers read, “U.S.
out of El Salvador!”
There were thousands of rank-and-file trade unionists, but their militancy and
their strength was felt even beyond their numbers.
So many workers who provide services felt the threat of Reaganism. Being
multinational, men and women, gay and straight, they felt comfortable with the
demands to end racism, repression and bigotry.
In marked contrast, elements in the AFL-CIO leadership supported a pro-Reagan
demonstration that unsuccessfully tried to disrupt the march. This right-wing
action was supported by William Doherty, director of the AFL-CIO’s
American Institute for Free Labor Development, which actually works with the
CIA in the junta’s phony “land reform” in El Salvador.
Lesbian and gay contingent
This was the first time lesbians and gay men had an open and visible presence
in a national anti-war demonstration. One of the large and more militant
contingents on the march was the lesbian and gay contingent. Marching under the
banner of the Lesbian and Gay Focus of PAM, this contingent was led by Black
lesbians who entered the rally site leading the whole contingent in chants
Matching them in militancy was a contingent of 300 Palestinians, carrying
Palestinian flags and banners, which read, “No U.S. intervention
anywhere!” “U.S. out of Lebanon!” and chanting
“Palestine, El Salvador, no intervention, no more war!” This is the
first time the Palestinian issue has been welcomed in an anti-war
While the leadership of the last anti-war movement refused to raise other
issues along with Viet Nam, today there were whole contingents representing
liberation struggles. Many signs demanded that the U.S. get out of Southern
Africa. There were contingents of Haitians demanding political asylum, of
Cubans saying, “Stop economic attacks on Cuba,” of Salvadorans,
Guatemalans, Puerto Ricans, Argentineans and Iranians.
People from cities large and small had taken the slogans of the march and inked
them on handmade signs and on sheets turned into banners. A banner was carried
on behalf of women in Alderson Prison. The Gramercy-Stuyvesant Independent
Democrats were there. Many nuns came to oppose U.S. aid to the Salvador junta.
Boston school bus drivers demanded “Money for schools and jobs, not the
Presbyterians for Peace was there, and a contingent of disabled people, many in
wheelchairs, participated. A banner held by New Haven CISPES [Committee in
Solidarity with the People of El Salvador] exclaimed, “The people have
chosen—U.S. out!” The Quakers were there along with a New American
Movement contingent from Chapel Hill, N.C. A Detroit sign said, “Cut
Chrysler’s welfare, not people’s health care,” and a banner
from Miami informed, “Not a living thing wins a nuclear war.”
Students came from around the country. Campuses organized 22 buses in New York
Many marchers expressed appreciation for the well-organized character of the
march, especially when a small number of right-wingers tried to disrupt. This
group was quickly isolated by security and guide teams.
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