Anti-War Protest Reports from Youth
in New York City, Los Angeles,
Atlanta, and San Francisco
March 20, 2004, marked the first year anniversary of America's illegal war of aggression against the Iraqi people. Prior to the war, people across the globe organized and participated in the largest concurrent worldwide demonstrations ever to protest the impending travesty which has now killed thousands of Iraqi civilians and hundreds of U.S. soldiers. The anti-war position taken by millions has been proven undeniably correct in the past year, from non-existent WMDs, deception in the White House on war intelligence, resistance to occupation in Iraq, and utter lack of real post-war planning by the Bush administration. On March 20, 2004, many thousands marched again to illustrate their continued opposition to the war and the ongoing occupation. Several Left Hook contributors across the US give us their thoughts on these demonstrations.
- New York City
by Derek Seidman
The huge anti-war demonstration this past Saturday in New York City was an energetic reassurance that the peace movement is alive and well. I was a bit worried that we'd be disappointed by the turnout, that the anger against the government's war drive had relaxed and fizzled out over a year's rest. Hoping for a show of 50,000 at best, I was filled with joy and confidence when the turnout ended up double that.
The day began and ended with large rallies, with a lengthy march in the middle that at one point stretched for forty-five blocks, encasing a busy chunk of midtown Manhattan. The cages that the police set up for us were somewhat less restrictive than last year, but the radical and rainbow-like spirit radiating from the demonstration was just the same. As with last year, the demonstrators represented a hugely broad spectrum of American society, from military veterans to Haitian activists, SEIU unionists to Vermont pacifists, "Anti-war Mom", "Dad", and "Kid", to "Psychotherapists for Social Responsibility". Most importantly, there was a proud contingent of anti-war military families who have loved ones serving in Iraq. One mother held a color picture of her deceased son in uniform, who was killed in Iraq. In big black letters directed towards the Bush administration, the sign read "You killed my son". Not surprisingly, this didn't make the front page of the newspapers, though it should have.
We received a great response from people watching from the sidelines. Peace signs were aplenty from workers at beauty salons and construction sights, and people mouthed out the messages on our signs, usually followed by a smile or an affirming nod. Even the cops weren't as abrasive as last year, some even chatting with demonstrators and agreeing with our demands. Perhaps because of the developments of the past year, people seemed more receptive and the movement seems to have a less anxious air about it, with more confidence and coherence.
While there was a basic continuity with the protests and mood of last year, there were some significant changes. The most obvious was the increased focus on getting Bush out of office this November. Virtually every speaker referred to this in one way or another, and "Anybody But Bush" was the unifying theme of the demonstration along with opposition to war and occupation. However, this did not translate into visible, explicit support for Kerry (I only saw one Kerry sign), since most of the demonstrators were far to his left and have little illusions about him being anything more than a kinder and gentler Bush.
I saw some hostility from the crowd directed towards Ralph Nader, who's committed the unspeakable atrocity of running a campaign based on such distractions as fighting corporate power, demanding a living wage, and implementing serious environmental reform. One protester held a sign that read "Are you happy Nader?", while a next to me tried to start a "Traitors vote for Nader" chant. Luckily I didn't see too much of this stuff. It's unfortunate that all the "Anybody But Bush" hysteria is an implicit call for the anti-war movement to support a war-mongering, Patriot Act-supporting, welfare-stripping slime ball like Kerry, but at least the protesters were unambiguous about their opposition to war and occupation. As the Left has not provided much of a concrete alternative to the grudging support of Kerry, it is understandable that many would put as the priority getting Bush out the White House and replacing him with a supposedly lesser-evil. Regardless, we need to keep the anti-war movement and the issues it centers on moving forward despite "Anybody But Bush". Our underlying issues and demands, which will not disappear (and may even take on a new urgency due to false hopes) under a Kerry administration, will continue to galvanize people.
As I turned one corner I saw a woman with a sign (meant to be rhetorical): "Kerry: why aren't you here?" One person who was there was Dennis Kucinich who, along with Al Sharpton, is the only Democratic candidate who shows up at these anti-war rallies. Whatever one may say about a politician in the Democratic party, it is admirable that Kucinich attended and spoke at a rally under a banner of ending the occupation. In addition, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! spoke, and she also played for nearly five minutes her interview with democratically elected (but US deposed) Haitian leader Jean-Bertrande Aristide. The whole demonstration was able to hear Aristide's account of being kidnapped by US forces. Global Exchange's Medea Benjaman also spoke, as well as the head of Veterans for Peace and several campus and high school youth activists.
A positive change from last year was the determined inclusion of the call of justice for the Palestinians. As this issue becomes more adamantly included in the peace movement, it will hopefully pressure some parts of the mainstream (and our movement) to give it more due notice. Though it is unfortunate that this even has to be said, it was very courageous that the organizers of the demonstration gave the plight of Palestinians central importance. The peace movement can't be intimidated by the irrational cries of Zionist supporters that are used to cover up some of the most horrid atrocities going on in the world, which are intimately related to the issues surrounding the occupation of Iraq.
All in all, it was a glorious day that represented a resounding affirmation of the anti-war movement's breadth and determination. However, the pressure is on to keep the movement going without succumbing to a wishful support of John Kerry. It is obvious that getting George Bush out of office is going to be the central issue of the anti-war movement in the coming month. However much any of us non-ABBers might not like this, we need to work hard to make sure the movement extends beyond that. It will surely have to.
Not one more day
Not one more death
Not one more deception
End the occupation of Iraq
A few photos of the NYC demo, taken by M. Junaid Alam. (Let's call the blurriness an 'artistic' effect and leave it at that). High-bandwith recommended.
- Los Angeles
by Michael Schwartz
I wasn't sure how the march would turn out. The last anti-war protest I had been to in L.A. barely numbered 3,000 and lacked energy to say the least. Most of the comments then reflected the fact that the movement had been unable to stop the war and the marchers were basically just going through the motions.
The vibe on Saturday was extremely different. Over 15,000 people lined the streets of Hollywood for a vibrant march condemning the continued occupation of Iraq. I couldn't help thinking that if we could have organized marches like this for the grocery strike we might have seen a different ending. It was a carnival-like atmosphere with many creative homemade signs present. For example, one of the signs said "America needs to cut the CARBS…Cheney, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, and Bush". The makeup of the marchers was diverse and included everyone from students to families. The location was a good choice because many tourists were in the area; most of whom seemed sympathetic to the march. There was a small turnout of Pro-war demonstrators but they numbered about 150 at most.
We marched for about a mile and a half before ending in front of the famous Mann's Chinese Theatre where the "Scooby Doo 2" premiere was taking place later that day. This is where the protest began to go downhill. After about an hour and a half of speeches that all basically said the same thing, the crowd had dwindled to about a fourth of its original size. So, I went to go get some lunch with a couple of friends. After finishing lunch we came back an hour later and people were still giving speeches even though there were only about one hundred people listening at this point. We have to do something about these speeches that just drag on and on with no end in sight. The vast majority of people have no interest in listening to speeches for three hours.
The worst thing about it was some of the best speakers were placed at the bottom of the list. This included the wife of a soldier in Iraq who is a member of Military Families Speak Out and a Gulf War veteran who had come to appeal to the soldiers currently fighting to join the anti-war movement. These people had an audience of about one hundred while Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters was one of the first speakers and had an audience of thousands. This contributed to the fact that most of the anger of the marchers was directed at Bush himself.
Overall, it was one of the best marches in L.A. that I've been to. It was impressive to see so many diverse people turn out against the occupation. I just hope all this energy isn't channeled into the Kerry campaign. Having Maxine Waters speak so early and walk in the front of the march certainly isn't going to help dispel the notion that the solution to ending the war is to elect anybody but Bush.
by Adam Levenstein
Atlanta does not have a large, vibrant activist community. A successful protest here draws 200-300 people. I was therefore pleasantly surprised when a reporter from the local Independent Media Center made a count of close to 500 people during the March 20 demonstration and march.
More striking than the relatively large numbers, however, was the diversity in the crowd. There was much more participation from people of color and different age groups than usual; this in itself made March 20 a huge victory for the anti-war movement in Atlanta.
Key to this success was who was organizing. Initiated by the local International Action Center, the organizing committee ran across the spectrum; there was active participation from Atlanta Palestine Solidarity, Concerned Black Clergy, the All-African People's Revolutionary Party, and Solidarity. Also present were large numbers of unaffiliated youth, including some from SWEAPS (Students Working for an Educated, Accountable, & Peaceful Society), a high-school anti-war group in the area.
Principally, I personally think it was Concerned Black Clergy's participation that really made the character of the demonstration. The CBC, a left-leaning Black civil rights organization made up mostly of Black ministers, got involved early and heavily, promoting the event and offering new lines of communication to the Black community.
Speakers for the event reflected the diversity among organizers and participants: Adelina Nicholls of the Coordinating Council of Latin Community Leaders, Beth Corrie of Atlanta Palestine Solidarity (and cousin to Rachel Corrie, the young activist murdered by Israeli forces last year in Gaza), and Elaine Brown, former chair of the Black Panther Party, among many others. The event was MCed by Minister Ajabu of CBC and Sayida Lowe from AUC Peace (Atlanta University Center is a coalition of historically Black colleges in West Atlanta).
The day's activities did not end with the march and rally; Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition, the local affiliate of United for Peace and Justice, organized more solemn vigils for the evening. These occurred in three main areas around the city, and involved more street theater and reflection, such as the symbolic spilling of blood to remember the dead. One such vigil had over 100 participants, perhaps as high as 150, and another had around 75. It would be safe to say that the grand totals for the day indicate more than 700 people came out.
- San Francisco
by Javier Armas
Protesters began the day by gathering at Dolores Park, in the heart of the San Francisco's Mission District. Thousands upon thousands showed up, covering a substantial amount of this park and making it very easy to lose the people that you came with. Some organizers claimed 50,000 people were present while others claimed a number a little higher. The protesters were made up of many constituencies, such as the Anybody But Bush crowd, Labor against War, and Green party followers. Anarchist and supporters of justice for the Palestinians were very large in size.
The march headed its way towards Civic Center with chants that ranged from, "Move Bush, get out the way, get out the way Bush, get out the way," to "Bush, Bush go back to your Ramada, the people are here ready to start the Intifada."
Matt Gonzales, the president of the Board of Directors of San Francisco and a member of the Green Party who nearly became the city's mayor, addressed the crowd as the first speaker. He spoke about how undemocratic the Bush administration has become with passage of the Patriot Act and why we need to continue to resist the occupation of Iraq. He was followed by community and labor leaders who all spoke militantly about fighting Bush and the occupation.
The Civic Center was packed with people making very frustrating efforts to try to walk from one place to another. Over thirty political tables of different political and leftist forces from the Bay Area covered the sides of the park.
On the south sidewalk, anarchists began a drum circle that attracted hundreds. At one point during the march they began to brake off from the permitted route. Easily over a thousand protesters joined the breakaway with a colorful musical band heading it up. The band wore orange and black clothes mimicking some type of uniform but with their own style to it.
The unpermited march began right in front of city hall and attracted police with riot gear. They tried to surround the marchers but didn't have enough cops to do so. The marchers continued on to Market street, the busiest street in San Francisco. Police in riot gear and squad cars announced on the megaphone that those who do not disperse from the street would be arrested. A group of about a hundred protesters stayed in the middle and became surrounded by police. The black block group held in arms and rushed the police and was able to break the circle as around twenty people escaped. Police started instantly shouting and getting aggressive as they felt the temporary lack of control. Hundreds of protesters on the sidewalk decided to keep marching elsewhere in the street to divert the police, who were concentrating their forces on the eighty-or-so surrounded people who chanted, "out of the sidewalks and into the streets." The protesters got aggressive and pushed several dumpsters into the middle of the street so police cars couldn't get through. Car drivers were honking their horns in support.
Eighty-one people ended up getting arrested, and seventy-nine of them were released that day. The rally showed that anti-war sentiment is still very strong and that it's not only the Iraqis that are resisting the empire.
- New York City (CUNY)
by Peter Brogan
Even though there was no united contingent of the City University of New York (CUNY) at the March 20 demonstration at the beginning of the day, there was a rather large one that managed to form towards the end of the march. Hundreds of students hailing from many different colleges throughout CUNY represented and marched behind banners, most blaringly a huge one that read FREE CUNY, all screaming NO to war and occupation. Unfortunately the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), which is the union that represents CUNY faculty, was unable to hook up with this student contingent, aside from a few professors who had decided to march with their students rather then the PSC. This is all the more sad since the PSC had been calling for a united CUNY front at the march, and had been doing a good deal of outreach for the protest. In addition to the PSC, a call for a united CUNY was put out by a few different organizations from the CUNY Graduate Center.
Though these calls seemed to not get much of a response, in so far as students and faculty meeting in one spot and beginning the march together, there was a hell of a lot of unity and passion evident once a good number of us found each other in the march. In many ways this is emblematic of where the CUNY liberation and anti-war movements are today, in a very general manner. That is to say, we seem to best coordinate ourselves in the midst of action, such as the March 20th march and rally, rather then in a more formal organized way, which is both encouraging and at the same time very problematic: problematic because movements take more to grow then occasionally hooking up together with various different groups spread all over the institution your trying to change (in this case CUNY, but the point can be more generally applied to the antiwar movement in the US regarding its vision, strategies, and tactics) at sporadic actions; encouraging because we need actions such as this demonstration to 1) keep the blood and morale flowing and 2) effect actual change, which of course is the primary goal of any social movement, or at least should be.
This of course leads us to the question of what this march and rally actually accomplished. Symbolically it was a fantastic display of antiwar and anti-occupation sentiment. The route was great in that it did get a good deal of attention from passers-by, most of which appeared to be positive, and was an important disruption of traffic (though I suppose one can argue if this last point actually amounts to something positive or not). But as important as this march/rally was for all of the above, as well as politicizing people who were formally not very political, and making others amongst the uninitiated think more about the situations in occupied Iraq and Palestine, we need to ask ourselves how do demonstrations such as this one, as tactics in our movement, actually affect those in power who have the capacity to change the policies we want changed. Its clear that Bush and Co. don't give a damn about such awesome displays of protest, and contrary to what many on the left have argued, neither did the Clinton administration, nor would a Kerry White House. So, the question then becomes, what else is needed in the manner of tactics and long term strategy in addition to these sorts of demonstrations for not only ending the brutal and illegal occupations of Iraq and Palestine, but also for tearing down this whole damn rotten system of capitalist, racist, patriarchal oppression and exploitation, which some call the good ol' US of A? I don't pretend to have any magic answers but it is clear that we need more creative and effective forms of resistance.
All the above writers are youth whose articles appear regularly in Left Hook. They can be reached at:
Derek Seidman: email@example.com
Mike Schwartz: firstname.lastname@example.org
Adam Levenstein: email@example.com
Javier Armas: firstname.lastname@example.org
Peter Brogan: email@example.com