Oscar Winners Susan Sarandon, Mercedes Ruehl and Jonathan Demme,
Reverend Jesse Jackson, Reverend Al Sharpton, Hurricane Survivors, Iraq War Veterans, Military Families, Immigrant Rights Activists, Religious Leaders and Labor Unions Join Together to Call for New Priorities
29 April 2006, New York, New York: The streets of New York City echoed today with the chants, songs and shouts of at least 350,000 people from across the United States. Mobilized around the calls to end the war in Iraq, to say no to any attack on Iran, and to support the rights and dignity of all people, including immigrants and women, the marchers brought a renewed urgency to the clear demand for change. The march featured the largest antiwar labor contingent in US history.
Initiated by a historic alliance linking a diverse coalition of
national organizations - United for Peace and Justice, Rainbow/PUSH
Coalition, the National Organization for Women, Friends of the Earth,
Climate Crisis Coalition, US Labor Against the War, Veterans for Peace, National Youth and Student Peace Coalition, People's Hurricane Relief Fund - the March for Peace, Justice and Democracy embodied the
understanding that all those working for such goals must come together
to right the reckless, dangerous, and wrong-headed direction the U.S. government has been following.
The march kicked off at noon on a sunny Saturday in Manhattan. The lead contingent included Oscar winning actors Susan Sarandon and
Mercedes Ruehl; Oscar-winning film director Jonathan Demme;
writer/actor Malachy McCourt; NYC Transport Workers Union leader Roger
Toussaint; Air America host Randi Rhodes; Michael Berg, whose son was
the first U.S. civilian hostage killed in Iraq; Reverend Jesse
Jackson; Reverend Al Sharpton; Gold Star mother Cindy Sheehan; Faiza
Al-Araji, a peace and women's rights advocate from Iraq; John Wilhem,
president of UNITE/HERE; National Organization for Women President Kim
Gandy; and Anne Wright, the first State Department diplomat to resign
protesting the Iraq War.
At the march's conclusion in Foley Square, a vibrant sea of flags,
banners and signs welcomed marchers to the 'Peace and Justice
Issue tents featured speakers, literature, t-shirt sales, food and
music highlighting the key issues of the wide-ranging March coalition:
--the war in Iraq and threats of war and U.S. nuclear attacks on Iran,
--a Palestine tent featuring Q&A on Israel/Palestine and folkloric
dance in an Arab-style 'cafe,'
--a Labor tent featuring the NYC Labor Chorus, and others.
A special Children's Peace Tent featured puppet-making and peace crane
art projects, 'Putt for Peace' and other games, face-painting,
musicians and jugglers.
Films, music, performances by the Raging Grannies and many other
activities were featured as well.
According to Leslie Cagan, national coordinator of the
1,500-organization strong United for Peace and Justice Coalition, 'An
unprecedented range of organizations, committed to varied
constituencies and a wide range of priorities, came together to march
today. We all recognize that until we end this lethal war in Iraq - a war that is destroying so many lives in Iraq and here, and costing so many billions of dollars so desperately needed for rebuilding lives, cities and countries - that we cannot succeed at reclaiming our democracy.'
Tomgram: Giving the President a Pink Slip in New York City
[Note for Tomdispatch readers: It seemed appropriate, given the piece
that follows, to recommend Anthony Arnove's book, Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal. Clear and concise, it presents in a nutshell the background for, and the arguments for, getting our troops out of Iraq. It is the book to take with you, if you are planning to argue the case with family members, friends, co-workers, or others. --Tom]
It's the perfect day for a march. Sunny, crisp, clear, spring-like. The sort of day that just gives you hope for no reason at all, though my own hopes are not high for New York's latest antiwar demonstration. I haven't received a single email about it. Many people I know hadn't realized it was happening. I fear the outreach has been minimal and despite all the signals of danger (of another war, this time with Iran) and of possibility (nosediving presidential approval polls, an administration in disarray, and the Republican Party in growing chaos), I approach this 30 block march with something of a sinking heart.
This is only reinforced by the scene that meets the full staff of
Tomdispatch.com - Nick Turse and me - as we leave the subway at 18th
street and head east about an hour before the demonstrators are to step off. The streets are still largely empty of all but the police, gathered in knots at every corner. Their blue sawhorses ('police line do not cross') rim the sidewalks seemingly to the horizon and everywhere you can see stacks of the metal fencing with which the NYPD has become so expert at hemming in any demonstration. None of this inspires great confidence.
Sometimes, though, surprise is a wonderful thing.
Who would have guessed that several hours later I would be standing on
Broadway and Leonard Street looking back at perhaps 20 packed blocks of demonstrators - bands, puppets, signs by the thousands, vets by the
hundreds (if not the thousands), huge contingents of military families, congeries of the young, labor, women, the clergy, university and high school students, raging grannies, radical cheerleaders, and who knows who else - an enormous mass of humanity as far as the eye can see and probably another 10 to 15 blocks beyond that. It was enough to make the heart leap.
I had no way of counting, no way of knowing whether what I saw was the
300,000 the organizers claimed or merely the vague 'tens of thousands'
mentioned in most media reports. It was, to say the least though, a lot of people, mobilized on limited notice.
As someone who lived through the era of Vietnam protests, this
demonstration had quite a different feel to it, and not just because of all the military families (and the surprising number of people I talked with who knew someone, or were related to someone, who had served in our all-volunteer military in Iraq), but because no one in this demonstration had the illusion that the White House was paying the slightest bit of attention to them.
The same, by the way, might be said of the mainstream media. On the ABC and NBC prime time news this night, the reports on this huge
demonstration, sandwiched between what would be billed as major
stories, would zip by in quite literally a few seconds each. In each case, if you hadn't been there, it would be easy to believe from the reporting that this event had essentially never occurred.
As I often do, I spent as much time as I could prowling the crowd,
talking to as many protesters as possible. A demonstration of this size is a complex beast, one I would hesitate to characterize. I've tried instead to offer below some of the voices I ran across - or at least as much of each of them as my slow hand could madly scribble on a pad of paper. As modest as the cross-section I encountered was, I had the feeling that, while the march was calm, lively, and upbeat, many of the demonstrators had no illusions about what the future might hold. The ones I met were almost uniformly disappointed in, or disgusted with, the Democratic 'opposition,' fearful of a new war in Iran, realistic about how hard it will be to get the President's men (and so
our troops) out of Iraq, and yet surprisingly determined that those
troops should be brought home as soon as humanly possible.
Perhaps such demonstrations are now not for the Bush administration,
nor really for the mainstream media either, but only for us. Perhaps they are a reminder to all those who attend and to those numbering in their hundreds of thousands, if not millions, on the political Internet that we are here, alive, and humming. That is reason enough to demonstrate.
Throughout these years, signs - individually made, hand-lettered,
sometimes just scrawled (not to speak of masks, puppets, complex
theatricals, elaborate visuals of every sort suitable for a world of
special effects) - are the signature aspect of such demonstrations. Here are some of the signs that caught my eye, not necessarily the wildest among them, but ones that give something of the flavor of the event:
'From Gulf to Gulf, George Bush, a category 5 disaster' 'Drop Bush, Not Bombs.' 'Fermez La Bush', 'No ProLife in Iraq.' '1 was too many, 2400 is enough' 'War is terrorism with a bigger budget'
'Axis of Insanity' (with George, Condi, Don, and Dick dressed as an
Elmer Fudd-style hunter) 'One Nation under Surveillance' 'G.O.P.
George Orwell Party' 'How Many Lives per Gallon?' 'War Is Soooooo 20th
Century' 'Civil War Accomplished in Iraq-Nam'
'Give Impeachment a Chance' 'I'm Already Against the Next War' 'Expose
the lies, half-truths, cut and paste rationales for going to war'
'Mandatory Evacuation of the Bush White House'
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