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A LONG WEEKEND FOR PEACE

Peace demonstrations were held in over 1,000 U.S. towns and cities, as well as in hundreds of locations around the world, over the March 17-19 weekend.
A LONG WEEKEND FOR PEACE
By Jack A. Smith
Hudson Valley(NY)Activist Newsletter 3-20-7

The antiwar movement took to the streets in great number throughout the world during the March 17-19 four-year anniversary of Washington's invasion, occupation and utter decimation of Iraq and its people. More than 1,000 peace protests took place in the U.S. alone. In addition there were several hundred candlelight vigils the evening of March 19. Actions took place in hundreds of cities around the globe.

The centerpiece of the three days of action was a march of tens of thousands from Washington across the Potomac bridge to the Pentagon where a rally was held in the very shadow of the imperial war machine. The demonstration, which included many youth from high schools and colleges, was organized by the ANSWER Coalition to commemorate both the anniversary of the war and of the famous Pentagon protest against the Vietnam War 40 years ago this year. (ANSWER is the acronym for Act Now to Stop War & End Racism.)

A huge snow storm in the Northeast prevented many thousands from getting to Washington by chartered buses, cars or airplanes. A contingent of 160 activists organized by the Hudson Valley (NY) Activist Newsletter, scheduled to travel on three buses from Kingston, Poughkeepsie and New Paltz, had to be canceled (see sidebar below). About 65 full buses from Albany, Pittsfield (Mass.), and many other locations in New York State, New England and Pennsylvania were canceled. More buses were delayed for hours and passengers were not able to reach the rally in time; some buses just couldn't get through. Thousands of flights were canceled as well, stranding demonstrators in distant airports.

The march took place in unexpectedly cold weather for Washington at this time of year. Demonstrators marched and remained as long as they could at the rally, but 23-degree temperatures and 20 mile-an-hour winds didn't make it a picnic. The Associated Press reported that "people traveled from afar in stormy weather to join the march. 'Too many people have died and it doesn't solve anything,' said Ann Bonner, who drove through snow with her husband, Tom O'Grady, and two children, 13 and 10, from Athens, Ohio. 'I feel bad carrying out my daily activities while people are suffering, Americans and Iraqis.'"
The biggest American demonstrations of the long weekend were organized by ANSWER — nearly 50,000 March 17 in Los Angeles (with such speakers as liberal California Rep. Maxine Waters and performances by renowned Ozomatli, Jackson Browne and Ben Harper), and 40,000 March 18 in San Francisco where protesters filled 15 blocks of six-lane Market St.

The antiwar coalition United for Peace and Justice conducted a march and rally March 18 at Hammarskjold Plaza, across from the United Nations. All New York City daily newspapers carried token articles (the New York Times devoted less than two inches to the protest although it was certainly the biggest event in the city that day), and they cited numbers from a thousand to "thousands," but when we asked several Mid-Hudson residents who attended the march they indicated these numbers were the usual underestimates.

Other large protests were held in Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis, San Diego, and Hartford, among many more cities.

The largest demonstration near the Mid-Hudson region took place to the north in Albany March 18 with a rally outside the Capitol and a march. Rally chair Joe Lombardo told us that "about 1,500 attended," which is considerably higher than last year's Albany event. The speakers, he said, "included representatives from Iraq Veterans Against the War, Vets for Peace, the family of a slain GI from our area, parents of active duty GIs, Marcia Pappas (New York State chair of NOW and vice president of the district's labor council), and members of a local mosque." In Rochester, over 400 people took part in a protest.

In the Hudson Valley, picket lines and vigils took place Kingston, New Paltz, Rhinebeck, Beacon, Poughkeepsie, Middletown, Nanuet, Montvale, Tarrytown, Dobbs Ferry, Hastings on Hudson, and in many other locations about which we have yet to receive information.

At Bard College in Annandale March 19 students skipped classes and organized a day of antiwar activities on campus. Students at SUNY New Paltz held peace events throughout the week before the weekend of actions. About 30 of them intended to board one of the Mid-Hudson buses March 17 until the storm intervened.
One of the most dramatic peace actions took place in Washington the evening of March 16 when 222 Christian peace activists were arrested in an act of civil disobedience. They broke the law by praying on the sidewalk outside the White House. They had earlier attended a prayer service at the National Cathedral. Democracy Now quoted Faith Garlington, who traveled from Atlanta to Washington for the demonstration, as saying: "We as Christians do not support this invasion of Iraq. We want the troops out immediately. We as Christians do not want this war fought in the name of Christ."

On March 19, 44 demonstrators were arrested offering civil disobedience as a protest against war profiteering at the New York Stock Exchange. They said in a statement: "We come to the Stock Exchange today to call attention to the companies that are profiteering from the war, companies like Lockheed Martin, which has seen its stock price rise 116% since the start of the war." In San Francisco the same day, police arrested nearly 60 people in two protests — a "die-in" on the sidewalk reminding passersby of the death toll in Iraq, and an attempted obstruction of busy Market St. in the business district.

The Pentagon demonstration received worldwide newspaper and TV coverage. The march and rally were broadcast live on C-Span and Al-Jazeera. They were also shown repeatedly most of the day on CNN and made headlines in virtually all the world's leading newspapers. The French daily Le Monde estimated the crowd as 50,000 — a counterpoint to the U.S. media's usual reduction of the numbers involved in antiwar protests and to the unofficial count by the Washington police of 20,000 (they no longer cite "official" numbers). AFP, the French news agency, preferred "tens of thousands."

The Washington march began near the Lincoln Memorial at 23rd St. and Constitution Ave. in DC, starting point of the 1967 march. The lead banner —demanding "U.S. Out of Iraq Now" — was carried by antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan; former Georgia Rep. Cynthia McKinney; Jonathan Hutto, co-founder of Appeal for Redress (the antiwar group of active duty armed service people);Mahdi Bray, Executive Director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation; Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson and youth and students in the antiwar movement. The first contingent consisted of a large number of Iraq war veterans, active-duty service-members in civilian clothes, Gold Star families, and veterans from other past and present wars.

A large number of black-jacketed right-wing counter-demonstrators showed up on the march route and near the rally, an indication of fears by pro-war forces that the antiwar actions are having an important impact on public opinion.

Newspaper accounts said many of the right-wingers cursed, spat, and shouted at the peace marchers. Such remarks as "If you don't like America, get out!" or "Jihadists!" were typical. One war protester replied, "Bunch of hooligans in motorcycle jackets!" Some in the pro-Bush crowd screamed and cursed at the peace demonstrators, including marching children.

Police and barriers usually kept the counter-demonstrators at bay, but war supporters confronted the marchers, tearing up and spitting on anti-war signs while chanting: "USA! USA!" There were no serious clashes but Associated Press reported that "war protester Susanne Shine of Boone, N.C., found herself in a crowd of counter-demonstrators, and came out in tears, with her sign in shreds. 'They ripped up my peace sign,' she said, after police escorted her, her husband and two adult daughters from the group."

The far rightist elements have been organizing for weeks on the basis of planted false rumors that the peace demonstrators intended to "desecrate" the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial with "spray paint and urine-filled balloons." Pro-war vets lined up at the Memorial and waved U.S. POW-MIA and military-unit flags. Reactionary websites worked overtime to whip up their followers to form a large counter-demonstration, undoubtedly with the support of the Republican Party and some veterans' groups. They were assisted by far right syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin who encouraged her right wing readers to "Get off the sofa and join the Gathering of Eagles on March 17 in Washington, D.C." The "Eagles" are one of several groups —defined by some demonstrators as neo-fascists — that came to "defend" the Memorial against a fictitious onslaught.

According to the statement given to an ANSWER organizer by one of one peace marchers: "The pro-war puppets, mainly white older men, shoved elderly people, screamed at parents [military family members marching in the lead] whose children had been killed in Iraq, and spit on and ripped signs out of the hands of high school students." In some cases, the account went on, "the police stood by and let this happen... . Antiwar protestors were disciplined and focused and refused to be provoked... . The enormous power of the people was felt as all of us from around the country [who are] fighting to stop the war came together, rendering the sideline fascists irrelevant, and we marched united on to the Pentagon."

ANSWER itself issued a statement: "Pentagon and Virginia State Police, many clad in riot gear, wearing gas masks and wielding batons, blocked people coming from the subway/metro who wanted to attend the demonstration. They also blocked buses from accessing the Pentagon in contravention of the agreements reached in the permit. This required people to walk nearly two miles to get to their buses following the rally. Many people who came to the rally after it had begun were blocked from entering the rally site through a maze of misdirection, road closures and threats of arrest at multiple different locations. The ANSWER Coalition worked to get people in, and ANSWER organizers and our attorneys went to the site of sudden police confrontations and shutdowns, but many people were still unable to get in including the hip-hop artist Immortal Technique who was scheduled to perform."

At the Pentagon rally nearly 30 speakers, mostly talking for under two minutes, excoriated the war, criticized the refusal of the Democratic Party leadership to oppose new war funding, and denounced the imperialist nature of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. There also were impassioned calls for the impeachment of President George W. Bush et al. The newly organized Impeach07 coalition was an endorser of the rally, as well as World Can't Wait, both of which strongly emphasize impeachment. Another coalition endorsing the event was Troops Out Now, which organized an encampment in front of the Capital during the week before the rally.

Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, at 79 a tireless figure of towering opposition to Washington's wars against Iraq in 1991 and 2003-7, emphasized the need remove President Bush from the White House. "We have to go to every member of the House and say we want you to begin impeachment proceedings, now, no delay...We can't rest until we have impeachment." He also declared, "If we don't act, now, there will be a big buildup of U.S. troops in Iraq. That is what the 'surge' is all about — it's a permanent surge."

Peace activist Cindy Sheehan, a Gold Star mother, said the movement in opposition to Bush Administration policies should not stop until Bush and company emerge from the White House in handcuffs. Continuing to considerable applause from a crowd containing a great many young people, Sheehan declared: "Let's stop this bullshit now. The reason the U.S. gets into all of these wars all the time is for the corporations... [to] make them rich. It's to line the pockets of George Bush and Dick Cheney and all the war criminals." She demanded that the U.S. government stop sending "our your people off, like my son Casey, to die for nothing, to die for the war machine.... It's like being in the shadow of the death star. They take their death and destruction and they export it around the world. We need to shut it down."

And shutting down the war machine is why hundreds of thousands of people in the United States and more in many cities around the world came out in the streets last weekend to denounce the beginning of the fifth year of Washington's unjust, illegal, immoral and imperialist war of aggression against Iraq.

address: address: New Paltz, NY