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Protesters’ message: ‘No War in Iraq’


Thousands of Americans Oct. 27 cast aside complex geopolitical arguments and the calculations of politicians and policymakers to oppose a U.S. invasion of Iraq with straightforward messages.

Their placards and posters stated:

  • “No War in Iraq”
  • “Impeach Fascist Bush”
  • “Israel is Not Worth World War III”
  • “It’s Patriotic to Oppose Unjust Wars”
  • “We Cannot Bomb our Way to Peace”
  • “Start Seeing Iraqi Children”

This national debut of the new antiwar movement in the shadow of the country’s most famous monuments was organized and peaceful and, in a sense, nationwide. Thousands more watched from home as C-SPAN carried the event live.

The arguments underlying the simple themes were expanded in casual conversation with marchers, and in speeches by celebrities and peace activists: In essence, that U.S. action against Iraq would be immoral and lead to the deaths of thousands of innocent Iraqis.

There was method in the message.

“Students are scared,” said University of North Carolina freshman Liz Mason Deese. Their top fear, said Deese, is the rise in anti-Americanism around the globe and subsequent terrorist attacks.

She was typical of the students who arrived in the caravans of coaches and cars that made a beeline for Washington. Eight busloads of University of North Carolina students made the 300-mile trip from Chapel Hill to Washington.

The old left was on hand -- former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, a longtime opponent of U.S. military intervention abroad, condemned Bush administration policies, as did the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Hollywood’s Susan Sarandon added star power to the speakers list.

The religious community was present. American Friends Service Committee National Coordinator Mary Lord said opposition to the war is so intensely felt that the effort to get people to Washington “was some of the easiest organizing we have ever done.” Said Lord, echoing a sentiment expressed throughout the demonstration: “We want to stop this war before it begins.”

“I just feel so strongly that we should not invade Iraq,” Dominican Sr. Stella Starch told NCR. Starch is justice, peace and ecology coordinator for the Sisters of St. Agnes, based in Fond du Lac, Wis. “The people are speaking, and our representatives who listen to the people will hear it. But I don’t know about our president. He’s just got his blinders on and his earplugs in.”

Labor had a place on the podium. A war against Iraq, said Food and Allied Trade Union Secretary-Treasurer Gene Bruskin, is designed “to make the world safe for General Motors, General Electric and General Foods” and not for U.S. workers in need of health care and jobs.

Organizers made a concerted attempt to represent the demonstration as a middle-American phenomenon. The antiwar message is “coming from average Americans,” said former member of Congress Thomas H. Andrews. And there was an element of town fair to the event -- parents, for example, buying their children a hot dog or pretzel from concessionaires present just outside the demonstration area.

Still, there was a decided ’60s feel to the event, with numerous mentions of the protests that helped end the Vietnam War. “It even smells like the ’60s,” said one member of the crowd, as the pungent odor of marijuana wafted through the crowd.

Following the rally, demonstrators marched from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to the White House.

Additional antiwar demonstrations were held in other cities, with the largest in San Francisco. Organizers estimated that a total of 250,000 protested U.S. policy toward Iraq Oct. 27, with 100,000 or more marching in Washington, but there was no independent verification of that number.

Joe Feuerherd is NCR Washington correspondent. His e-mail address is jfeuerherd@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, November 08, 2002