Coverage of March 20 Peace Actions
1. Peace Rallies Tell Obama, End the Afghan War
2. Raging Grannies sing Bail Out The People.
3 ANSWER Coalition Slapped With Government Fines
PEACE RALLIES TELL OBAMA:
END THE AFGHAN WAR!
By Jack A. Smith
Peace demonstrators marched and rallied against the Bush-Obama wars in Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other cities March 20 on the seventh anniversary of the unjust, illegal invasion and continuing occupation of Iraq.
The protest mainly called for the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from the Afghan war that President Barack Obama has widened since taking office last year by more than doubling the number of American soldiers and marines.
The ANSWER Coalition, which organized the biggest rallies, estimated that 10,000 demonstrators marched for peace in the nation's capital, 5,000 in San Francisco, and 3,000 in Los Angeles. Eight people were arrested at the Washington protest.
The demonstrations were smaller than in the years when President George W. Bush occupied the White House. But it showed that a determined sector of the U.S. peace movement remained a vital oppositional force to America's aggressive wars despite the defection of many Democratic peace voters since President Obama took office.
The Hudson Valley Activist Newsletter and Peace and Social Progress Now arranged for 72 activists to travel to the Washington protest last Saturday on chartered buses picking up passengers in Kingston, New Paltz and Spring Valley, N.Y.
As with the national movement this number was smaller than in the Bush years due to the reluctance of many Obama supporters to take a public stand for peace, though larger than the number who traveled with us on the sixth anniversary. The Albany peace movement to our north also sent a bus. Speaking from the Hudson Valley region was Joe Lombardo of Bethlehem (N.Y.) Neighbors for Peace, representing the National Assembly, a co-sponsor of the day's events.
ANSWER's Washington action — which was multinational in composition with a large youth component — was co-sponsored by several score peace, justice, veterans and left groups. "Buses to the Washington protest came from at least 50 cities in 20 states," a spokesperson for the organization reported. "Demonstrators rallied and marched shoulder to shoulder to demand 'U.S. Out of Iraq and Afghanistan Now,' 'Free Palestine,' 'Reparations for Haiti' and 'No Sanctions Against Iran.'" (See links to photos and video below.)
The action began on a beautiful first day of spring with a lively hour and a half rally in Lafayette Park, directly across the street from the White House. Some 25 people, representing various causes touching upon the wars, spoke for 2 or 3 minutes each, often with rapid-fire deliveries. President Obama was criticized frequently for his continuation and expansion of Bush's wars.
Despite many stirring speeches, two groups that appeared on the platform were exceptional crowd-pleasers. One was the well known "Raging Grannies," composed of several older women singing songs of peace and justice. They offered a rousing version of Bail Out the People (see below for text).
The other group was composed of as many representatives as could fit on the stage of a bus full of New York City high school students, who raised the money to charter the vehicle on their own. They were from the public Facing History School in Manhattan. During the march they carried a 20-foot banner with the words: "Facing History School Demands: Money for Jobs and Education, Not for War and Occupation." (Link to photo of students below.)
Brian Becker, ANSWER's national coordinator, told the crowd. "A huge part of the antiwar movement has been focused on the Bush Administration and its policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush is gone. Millions of people thought his exit would mean an end to these wars. Instead, after one year of real-life experience, they're far from ending."
Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, a leader of the campaign to impeach President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney when they were in office, called for Congressional hearings to investigate U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said the Bush Administration's unjust wars "are supreme international crimes and we must hold them responsible.... Unless we stop these wars now our country will remain a menace to the entire planet."
Ralph Nader addressed, among other topics, the fact that "Bush and Cheney are still at large and must be brought to justice." The Obama Administration will not allow an inquiry into the illegal wars or the torture programs, but throughout the peace movement there is the conviction that unless war criminals are identified and discredited the precedent established by Bush and Cheney will be replicated in future.
Cindy Sheehan, who recently set up a peace camp near the Washington Monument, gestured across the street from the platform to ask the crowd, "Is the honeymoon over with that war criminal in the White House?" Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of Partnership for Civil Justice discussed the harassment of ANSWER by the D.C. government (see article below).
Washington's Rev. Gaylord Hagler noted that as a candidate Sen. Obama promised "change" to the voters but "he is going to keep the Bush wars." He called for an immediate end to the Iraq and Afghan wars. Former U.S. Army Col. Ann Wright, who resigned to protest the Iraq war and has practically become a fulltime peace activist, received heavy applause.
Other speakers included representatives from the Muslim Solidarity Committee, Students for a Democratic Society, the Black Is Back Coalition, Alliance for Global Justice, CodePink, National Lawyer's Guild, U.S. Labor Against the War, Voters for Peace, Veterans for Peace, March Forward, Latinos USA, World Can't Wait, and National Council of Arab-Americans.
The march after the rally lasted about two hours, following a route with more passersby watching from the sidewalks than usual, including many tourists. Marchers were often 40 across jammed closely together on the wide streets. Various slogans decorated at least 2,000 signs bobbing up and down during the march through Washington's business district, the most prominent being ANSWER's yellow and black "We Need Jobs and Schools, NOT WAR," which predominated.
For much of the march there were loud drums and music vying with bullhorns and chanting. One chant from the large and quite vocal group marching behind the banner of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, which is part of the ANSWER Coalition, went like this: "Black, Latino, Arab, Asian and white/ No more, No more this racist war/Defend our civil rights."
To quote an ANSWER statement, "the militant march led by veterans, active-duty service members and military families made its way through the streets of D.C. carrying coffins draped in Afghan, Iraqi, Pakistani, Somali, Yemeni, Haitian and U.S. flags, among those of other countries, as a symbol of the human cost of war and occupation. Coffins were dropped off along the way at Halliburton, the Washington Post, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and other institutions connected to the war profiteering, propaganda, and human suffering. The final coffin drop-off was at the White House — the decision-making center of U.S. imperialism."
The eight arrests took place when the coffins were placed on the sidewalk by the White House fence and the demonstrators refused to keep moving when authorities said to do so. According to a press report, as she was hauled away by U.S. Park Police, Cindy Sheehan shouted, "Arrest that war criminal," referring to the president. They were held in jail for two days, quite unnecessarily, for crossing a police line, an offense that doesn't even call for jail time. They are to appear in court June 9 and may be fined.
The 55 people in our bus headed for home somewhat after 5 p.m., getting back around midnight. The remainder of our people left at 7 p.m. in another bus shared with peace people heading for Pittsfield, Mass., after dropping them off in New Paltz, N.Y.
It is customary in our peace buses (this was our 24th bus organizing trip to distant demonstrations) to conduct a bus-wide discussion about the day's events and politics, at least until arriving at the highway restaurant for dinner an hour and a half away
We had a good discussion. There were a lot of new faces, including over a dozen college students and three younger children. Nearly 20 of our college and older passengers had never been to a big Washington rally before, and about 10 evidently had never attended any peace rally.
The matter of the smaller size of the demonstration came up a few times. This writer touched upon the 12 big Washington peace protests ANSWER organized since a week before Bush's invasion of Afghanistan. At least eight of them were over 100,000 people, including 200,000 in October 2002 and 500,000 in January 2003. The last 100,000 event was Sept. 15, 2007, when the march concluded with a dramatic "die-in" of 5,000 people surrounding the Capitol. Almost 200 people were arrested when police prevented them taking an antiwar message to Congress.
The next year was 2008 when so many peace activists thought that the wars would end when they elected a Democratic-controlled Congress and White House. The mass base of the U.S. peace movement — which is composed of Democratic voters — began dissipating as peace people started devoting their time to the elections. The base virtually disappeared after Obama was elected, and it's not back yet, even as the wars multiply.
Along with it went a number of peace groups and coalitions, including the biggest national coalition — United for Peace and Justice, which may still exist in name but has largely been inactive for two years except as a website. UFPJ, too, seemed to think replacing Bush with a Democrat would solve the problem of war.
The left wing of the peace movement remained firm, as do the pacifist and direct action wings. Also, some Democratic voters are returning to the peace struggle now that the wars are expanding, the Pentagon/national security budgets are higher, and the Obama Administration's foreign/military policy remains that of extending hegemony and retaining world dominance. These constituencies now constitute the activist base of the movement — and they pulled off a fine rally and march in Washington last weekend, as we understand they did in Los Angeles and San Francisco as well.
So we're smaller now — it's happened before — and we will have to struggle harder for peace. After all, lives and national independence are being destroyed in our name in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Yemen. Washington's empire of military bases circling the globe and the Pentagon's weaponry could devastate the world. We have to keep marching, rallying, meeting, educating, and taking direct action when appropriate because it is essential not only to denounce the warmakers but to rebuild the mass movement strong enough to stop the wars.
• Photos of Washington rally, which can be viewed as a slide show: http://www.flickr.com/photos/48631321@N07/4454652059/in/set-72157623547774567/
• For a photo of the Facing History students, http://picasaweb.google.com/sutco28/AntiWarDC#5451244001735075026
• A video of Cindy Sheehan's arrest we made by Hans Fraude, 14, who was accompanied on our bus by his dad, Harald. It's at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a90GOGWmvvA
"BAIL OUT THE PEOPLE"
Performed by The Raging Grannies in Washington
March 20 to the tune of "Roll Out the Barrel."
Follow the money, to see why we go off to war,
Follow the money, it’s not freedom we’re fighting for,
Follow the money, it leads to those corporate whores,
They’ve gone and bombed the Iraqis
So Halliburton can get more.
Pfizer and Wal-Mart, Bechtel and Citigroup, too,
Reap all the profits and don’t give a fig about you!
While folks go hungry in [Miami] and New Orleans,
They’re at home counting their money
To support their war machine.
Follow the money – it all leads to corporate greed.
The poor and the homeless, when will they get what they need?
Big money interests dictate our nation’s war plans.
It’s time now to take back our country
And give folks a helping hand.
Foreclosures are rising and more folks are now unemployed.
What ever happened to the land of the free we enjoyed?
It’s time for the people to rise up and now take a stand!
Let’s get out and bail out the people,
Then we’ll shout it: “Yes, we can!”
Bail out the people and give them the money they need.
To hell with the bankers who suffer from terminal greed.
We’ve got to stop them, and all those who profit from war.
Yes, we will follow the money!
Let’s buy peace instead of war!
ANSWER SLAPPED WITH GOVERNMENT FINES
ANSWER has been the target of government harassment because of its rallies in Washington, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Volunteers in the two California cities have been arrested, charged with felonies, and released on $20,000 bail each for putting up posters. And draconian fines have been leveled in the District of Columbia for postering.
Two days before the Washington peace rally and march, ANSWER organized a press conference as part of its fight back against big fines it has been ordered to pay in the nation's capital. The group issued this statement March 18:
The ANSWER Coalition has been hit with $7,500 worth of fines for 50 antiwar posters that were put up in the past two weeks. This is on top of nearly $70,000 in fines that have already been imposed on the coalition for the same offense.
This is an effort to suppress grassroots organizing. It's an unprecedented targeting of a political organization for engaging in free-speech activities. The ANSWER Coalition conforms to the regulations and rules for postering, and after each event we send out teams of volunteers to canvass the city and take down posters, regardless of whether we posted them.
These most recent fines also come directly after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has ruled in our favor that we have the right to proceed in our efforts to challenge D.C.’s regulations as unconstitutional. Mara Verheyden-Hilliard and Carl Messineo from the Partnership for Civil Justice sent a cease and desist letter yesterday to the Department of Public Works.
The letter states: “In part to demonstrate that your agency’s massive targeting of ANSWER is nothing less than an attack on the substance of its political speech, ANSWER has complied with every provision of the District’s unconstitutional regulations, even under protest and even while challenging the illegality of the regulations in Court. Yet DPW continues to issue draconian fines without a shred of basis. This conduct is a shameful abuse of authority.”
Other speakers at the press conference include Mahdi Bray, Executive Director, Muslim American Society Freedom; Brian Becker, National Coordinator, ANSWER Coalition; Cindy Sheehan; James Circello, Iraq War veteran and member of March Forward; Mike Ferner, President of Veterans for Peace; Geoff Millard, Chair, National Directors of the Iraq Veterans Against the War; Cynthia McKinney; Eugene Puryear, Youth and Student ANSWER; Mounzer Sleiman, Vice Chair of National Council of Arab Americans; Debra Sweet, National Coordinator of World Can't Wait; Representative, Military Families Speak Out.