•  HOME 
  •  BOOKS 
  •  WWP 
  •  DONATE 
  • Loading

Follow workers.org on
Twitter Facebook iGoogle

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 draft.

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 Salvador!”

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 their lives.

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 forum.

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 bullets!”

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 movement.”

Holmes was the 1980 Vice Presidential candidate of Workers World Party. Other WWP members played important roles in many aspects of the march organization.

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 cuts.

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 against racism.

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 demonstration.

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 Pentagon.”

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 alone.

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.