Marching for Peace in Washington

This article was originally published on February 7, 2007

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A massive outpouring of peace activists filled the National Mall in Washington, DC on Saturday, January 27, demanding an end to the war in Iraq and calling for impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Many groups, such as Code Pink, Global Women’s Strike, US Labor Against War and the Green Party, gathered in different parts of Washington and marched through the streets to the mall, continually swelling the crowd.

While the size of the crowd may be in dispute, there can be do doubt that it was far closer to the 500,000 estimated by the event organizers, United for Peace and Justice, than it was to the tens of thousands reported in the corporate media. While the rally started at 11:00, the march itself didn’t begin until 1:30. I was standing close to the podium and thus near the head of the march, yet it took those around us half an hour to shuffle forward the first block.

Abandoning the idea of following the prescribed route (which was never made clear), I joined those who simply walked up the Capital grounds, crossing numerous barriers and joining back up with the ‘official’ marchers beside the Capital Building. It appeared that the intention was for the march to stay on one side of Constitution Avenue, turn around somewhere and then return down the other side. While three small groups of marchers, including one escorted by police cars (presumably the head of the march, missing the Hollywood celebrities and other dignitaries who were on the podium during the rally) did manage to make it back down the official route, the marchers took matters into their own hands, filling the streets and marching completely around the capital. When half a dozen police motorcycles attempted to prevent the crowd from crossing the barriers separating the Capital from the street, they were immediately surrounded by people chanting “Whose Streets? Our Streets!” At that point the police gave up and allowed the marchers to proceed as they saw fit. While I was not a witness, the police did manage to stop a small group of people who ran up the steps of the Capital, preventing them from entering the building.

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By the time I left the area at 3:30, there were thousands of people still waiting to march up Constitution Avenue past the Capital, even as earlier marchers were beginning to flow back onto the Mall from the other side of the Capital.

As the list of candidates for President in 2008 seems to be growing daily, only one of them had the courage to show up on Saturday and speak, Dennis Kucinich, Democratic Congressman from Ohio. While there were dozens of speakers, including Representatives Maxine Waters and John Conyers, Liam Madden and Jonathon Hutto, active-duty members of the U.S. Navy and Bob Watada, father of Lt. Ehren Watada, the first officer to refuse deployment to Iraq, most media reports of the rally focused on Jane Fonda’s appearance. Ms. Fonda stated that she had been silent about the war up until now, not wishing to act as a distraction. Yet her appearance gave the corporate media an excuse to focus on her and not the words of other speakers.

Friday evening I met with people who traveled from all over the country to voice their opposition to this war. I met someone originally from Massachusetts, who has spent the past year working with rebuilding efforts in Louisiana. One woman flew in from Alaska; others were from Michigan and New Mexico. At one point on Saturday during the rally, I sat down on a bench to rest my back. A few moments later, another man joined me, also to rest his back. Turns out he was from New York City and has a son living in Buskirk. People truly came from all over the country.

Following up from the excitement generated by the march and rally, 50 activists from throughout the Capital Region met on Tuesday, January 30 at the Social Justice Center in Albany to discuss how to commemorate the 4th anniversary of the latest war in Iraq. Despite plans for national demonstrations to be held in Washington on March 17 and New York City on the 18th, those in attendance felt it was important for a protest to be held locally. Tentative plans were made for a demonstration outside the Federal Building in downtown Albany. A second meeting will be held at the Social Justice Center, located at 33 Central Avenue in Albany, on February 22 at 5:30 to finalize plans. For additional information, contact Joe Lombardo of the Northeast Peace and Justice Action Coalition at 439-1968 or jlombard@nycap.rr.com.

The Saratoga Peace Alliance announced at the meeting their decision to participate in The Occupation Project, a campaign of sustained nonviolent civil disobedience aimed at ending the U.S. war in and occupation of Iraq. The campaign will begin the first week of February 2007 with occupations at the offices of Representatives and Senators who refuse to pledge to vote against additional war funding. For additional information, contact Patty Christensen of the Saratoga Peace Alliance at 383-2640.

For those looking for a different way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, why not join the Raging Grannies as they once again attempt to volunteer at the Army Recruiting Station at Colonie Center. Additional information can be found at http://womenagainstwar.org/.

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