October 27, 2002

Peace on Washington

For one day, Saturday, October 26, Washington was Peace City. A massive crowd gathered near the Vietnam Memorial, listened to speakers, milled and talked with one another, shared anti-war literature and buttons, then marched down Constitution Avenue and over to the White House. The event was organized by International ANSWER, Act Now to Stop War and End Racism. The resident was in Mexico as the protestors marched around the White House.

As always there is controversy on how many were there. Early on I heard 150,000. Later the estimates went to 200,000 as buses kept arriving. At the end of the day, I heard estimates of 250,000. I have no way of knowing. The helicopters may have a better idea, but they aren't likely to tell what they know.

A Reuters report quotes "an organizer" saying there were 150,000 and "others" estimating 40,000 or 50,000. Whatever the number, the turnout was massive. It was a small city transplanted in the nation's capital for those few hours, and the feeling was powerful, and unmistakable. It was festive, joyous, a helluva party. As in the Central Park rally of a few weeks before there was that sense of widespread release of previously private anguish, now brought into the open with others.

The Washington event dwarfed the Central Park peace rally, which gives the impression that there is a momentum building, as a self-consciousness begins to take shape in this new antiwar movement. There is a growing sense of community of people on the street meeting face to face, a rebirth of authentic social interaction, the essential human process that has been preempted by corporate media in recent times. The major media, which are only the voices of the corporate state, have provided a false public discourse. And now the gulf between that corporate message and the real-life concerns of people has become so wide, the corporate media are becoming increasingly irrelevant. The Iraq war has finally pushed the right wing agenda so far away from the needs and desires of the people, it has crossed a threshold and forced people to find other channels of communication. Person-to-person communication on the street is the most fundamental element of community. People are rediscovering it in peace demonstrations, and are discovering the culture that was robbed from them by an imperial media that invaded their lives and destroyed their culture just as the conquerors have done throughout history.

A long list of speakers engaged the crowd, including Jesse Jackson, Ramsey Clark, Cynthia McKinney, Al Sharpton and many more. The tone of the speakers was of anger, defiance and determination. Part of the sense of well-being and festivity of the crowd could be attributed to the fact that their anti war sentiments were finally being represented by forceful spokespeople, given a constructive outlet and no longer festering inside.

Consistent with the pattern established in recent weeks, the crowd reflected an enormous spectrum of American society. There were infants and very elderly people, and everything in between, all races and religions, a broad spectrum of nationalities and vocations. There were union people, veterans, students, teachers, parents with their children, many activist groups. One clear issue united them all and promoted tolerance of differences, the impending war on Iraq, and the fueling of the war machine at the expense of everything else.

Ben Cohen, one of the founders of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, spoke as a businessman. A highly successful and innovative businessman, Cohen is now the driving force behind truemajority.com, which is based on the premise that contrary to a commonly believed truism, war is not good for business, except for a certain range of businesses, such as the body bag business.

Cohen said the administration was trying to package and market the war, but that the war is just a bad product and is not selling. "If I put this product out to my shareholders, they would have my head," he said. "Why? Because it is a war based on lies," the primary ones being that Iraq is a threat to the U.S., that the problem with Iraq's weapons cannot be effectively dealt with through diplomacy, and that wars can be conducted "surgically."

This administration, he said, is engaged in "the most extreme form of power politics I have ever seen.

"Let's talk numbers," Cohen said, "because after all I'm a businessman, and that's what I do." Cohen brought a large chart on which there was a bar graph representing what the government spends our tax money on, including $40 billion on child healthcare, $30 billion on elementary education, $15 billion on higher education, $8 billion on job training, $8 billion on environmental protection...

"And the last one here, I've put a ribbon on because it goes way off the charts. It's the amount of money that goes to the Pentagon, $355 billion, and that is every year. And it doesn't include the $200 the war with Iraq and the subsequent occupation is suppose to cost."

The variety, creativity and passion reflected in the signs was a great side show in itself. "Stop U.S. weapons of mass destruction", "No blood for oil", "Your war dishonors us", "Bush's phony war is a weapon of mass distraction", "Declare war on corporate greed, not Iraq"; "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention"; "Busharon wars r us"; "Regime change begins at home"; "Money for jobs, not war"; "They're selling war, we're not buying"; "Drop Bush not Bombs";

Jesse Jackson spoke eloquently. "We will fail as an empire! We must choose leading, not ruling! It is time for a change! Vote on November 5!...

"We must not kill innocent people just to kill him [Saddam Hussein] We must know better. We do know better. We must be a greater nation than that. This time the silent majority is on our side. Americans do not want this war!... Choose democracy!"

Ramsey Clark, who was Lyndon Johnson's attorney general in the 1960s and is now getting on in years, nevertheless spoke with perhaps more passion and authority than anyone there. "We must have no more war memorials," he said. "We need peace memorials. Our sanctions have killed a million and a half people! We're bombing them almost every day. There have been 40 killed in October! And we say they are evil! We'd better pay attention. If we don't stop this now, we'll live in chaos the rest of our lives. These are high crimes. They are indictable crimes. They are impeachable crimes."

That one got a rise out of the crowd. Clark said it is time to "liberate the U.S. from militarism. This is not a democracy, it's a plutocracy. We need to liberate the U.S. from repression. We have 2 million people in prison. And we talk about liberating other countries. We know what's right, we just don't stand up. We have to persevere every day of our lives for the foreseeable future."

Georgia congresswoman Cynthia McKinney urged action, saying, "When good men do nothing, evil triumphs. The reason why we are here today is because we cannot let it be said that the people of the U.S.A. did nothing..."

Twenty-five percent of the homeless who wander the streets are veterans, McKinney. And Bush recently limited veterans benefits. "If he would do that to our veterans when we need them so much, what will he do to us?" she asked. "I say to George W. Bush, 'You talk about war, look at the veterans sleeping outside right across the street from the White House.' It's easy to talk about war when you've never been to one."

To the many Bush administration hawks who avoided military service in war, McKinney said, "Where were you when your country needed you?"

To the crowd she said, "We can sit back and do nothing, or we can protect our republic from abuse... Despite our differences, we are here for one reason, to return our nation to its true ideals. Don't be fooled by what they say about you. You are the true patriots.

"Today is a glorious day," she said, "when the U.S. stands and says, 'No war. Justice for all.'"


For other reports see:

  • The Washington Post

    The police said the San Francisco antiwar demonstration attracted 42,000, according to San Francisco Gate.

    For photos of the Denver protest, click Epson.com.

    Thousands marched in St. Paul, Minn. The Star Tribune.

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