Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Washington and around the world to protest a possible US-led war against Iraq. The marchers invoked the memory of the late Martin Luther King, a famous advocate for non-violent protest in his quest for racial equality in the United States(Alex Wong/Getty Images)...
Tens of Thousands Converge on Washington to Protest US Action Against Iraq
19 Jan 2003, 01:24 UTC
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Washington and around the world to protest a possible U.S.-led war against Iraq. The marchers invoked the memory of the late Martin Luther King, a famous advocate for non-violent protest in his quest for racial equality in the United States.
Dozens of buses descended on Washington Saturday from around the country. Tens of thousands of protesters, young and old, black and white, braved subzero temperatures to demonstrate against a possible war with Iraq.
At a rally in front of the U.S. Capitol, 58-year-old Ruta Vaskis said she and her husband came from Alaska. "There are protests in Fairbanks, which is where we came from, but this one is a much bigger one," she explained.
Twenty-two year old Matt Denner, from Ames, Iowa, rode all night in a bus to be at Saturday's demonstration. On his head, he held a large stuffed animal that he recovered from a second-hand store. "I'm carrying a 99-cent chicken I got from Goodwill and was inspired to recycle it and challenge our nation's legislators, our leaders and to challenge community members to choose non-violence for resolving international conflicts," he said.
Besides students, the demonstrators included people who were die-hard peace activists and people who were not used to being so vocal.
Maine resident Jane Sees, who said she is in her 60s, said the threat of war hits close to home. "It's much more immediate to fight having a war when a member of your family is involved," she pointed out. "My son is not in the military, but he's a merchant marine, but is carrying materials to the Middle East."
The speakers at the rally included actors and civil rights leaders. Washington Police Chief Charles Ramsey described the march that followed as peaceful.
"People can come and they can have a demonstration and be peaceful," he said. "And that's what, really, America is all about. That's what democracy is about -- having an opportunity to voice your opinion about issues, but not do so in a violent way."
Demonstration organizers claimed half-a-million protesters. Chief Ramsey did not give a crowd estimate. But he said he thought there were quite a bit more people than the 100,000 who showed up for anti-war demonstrations in Washington in October.
"When they were marching in October, they had big gaps in the parade. But here, there are some gaps, but not real big gaps. So, that's a lot of people," he said.
Chief Ramsey added there were extra police stationed around a counter-demonstration of about 50 people, but that there were no incidents.
A public opinion poll of more than 1,200 Americans published Thursday by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press says 76 percent of Americans support military force against Iraq if U.N. inspectors find weapons of mass destruction. But U.S. public support for military action drops to only 29 percent, if no weapons are found. Around the world, protests against a possible U.S.-led war against Iraq also were held in dozens of countries in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
Back in the United States, similar rallies were held in other American cities. A second round of protests is planned outside the White House and elsewhere on Sunday.
Protesters March Against War
by Calvin Woodward AP
WASHINGTON (Jan. 18) - Tens of thousands rallied in the capital Saturday in an emphatic dissent against preparations for war in Iraq, voicing a cry - ``No blood for oil'' - heard in demonstrations around the world.
Jan. 18, 2003, 10:26PM
Area activists join rally in D.C. to protest war
By PATTY REINERT
WASHINGTON -- After a grueling 26-hour bus ride, Houston-area peace activists braved frigid temperatures outside the U.S. Capitol on Saturday to join tens of thousands of Americans in an impassioned plea to stop President Bush's march toward war in Iraq.
"Everything about this is wrong!" said Njeri Shakur, 52, who came to Washington with her 25-year-old daughter.
"In the ghettos and in the barrios of Houston, I see human beings working every day and they can't feed their children or pay their rent, and they cannot get their children educated," Shakur said.
"And now they want our black and brown and poor and working-class white children to go across the world and kill other struggling people? We say, `No!' "
The rally, organized by International ANSWER -- or Act Now to Stop War and End Racism -- to coincide with the holiday weekend celebrating the birthday of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., drew parents pushing strollers, children in face paint, university students, doctors, nurses and other professionals, as well as veterans from the Vietnam and Gulf Wars.
Bundled against temperatures slowly edging up from the teens, they waved signs, banged drums and chanted "No blood for oil!" and "Jobs, not war!" as well as "Impeach Bush!"
Participants listened to speeches by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, Democratic presidential candidate the Rev. Al Sharpton and Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic, author of Born on the Fourth of July, which was made into a popular movie of the same name.
"We must fight back because our lives are at stake," the Rev. Jesse Jackson told the crowd. "We march today to fight militarism and racism and sexism and anti-Semitism and Arab-bashing. We fight for one world."
Police reported few arrests as the demonstrators marched from the Mall past Marine barracks to the Washington Navy Yard.
Dozens of smaller protests were staged in Houston, San Francisco, Chicago and cities throughout the United States, Asia, Europe and the Middle East on Saturday. Today the demonstrations in Washington continue with a youth rally and march from the U.S. Justice Department to the White House.
The president spent the holiday weekend at Camp David.
"The fact of the matter is the people who support the president are not going to take to the streets" to demand that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein disarm, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Friday.
Bush's supporters did stage a small counter-protest, however. About three dozen backing war on Iraq gathered at the Vietnam Memorial Wall, just down the Mall from the massive antiwar gathering. Counter-demonstrators also heckled an estimated 30,000 marchers who broke off from the larger rally to make the two-mile march to the naval yard.
"The protesters don't understand the threat," said Scott Johnson, 55, a Navy veteran from Minneapolis who demonstrated near the Wall. "It's a war of liberation for people."
Bush says Saddam possesses weapons of mass destruction and has no qualms about using them on the United States, if he could. He also has warned that the biggest threat to America's security following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the East Coast is that independent terrorists will team up with "rogue nations" such as Iraq, which could supply them with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.
United Nations inspectors are in Iraq trying to find any such weapons. Last week, they turned up a dozen empty rocket canisters, a development that the White House called "serious and troubling."
But Saturday's antiwar protesters laughed off that development, carrying signs that said, "George W. Bush: Proof that empty warheads can be dangerous." Others waved signs saying "Disarm Dubya" and "Love my country; fear my government." One man's sign said, "Proud to be an American -- Until Now."
Houstonians in the group carried signs with white peace doves across a blue Texas-shaped background and some that said "Texans against the War."
"I have no faith at all that we will convince Bush, but all we can do is try," said Gene Essig, a retiree from Nassau Bay who took the bus from Houston, along with her 49-year-old lawyer son and about 40 other demonstrators.
"You can't stop doing things just because you're old," said Essig, who turns 77 in March. "Every person counts, and I wanted to be counted among those against the war."
Like many in the crowd, Essig said Bush's true motivation for war is to control Iraqi oil.
"I don't want to see our boys or the Iraqis die so Americans can drive SUVs," she said. "It's immoral to me."
Rick Brennan, 26, a history teacher at Houston's Lanier Middle School, said he debated staying in Houston for protests over the weekend.
"But I wanted to be a part of something bigger," he said. "My conscience wouldn't let me sit this one out. I felt like I had to be here. I didn't just want to watch it on C-Span."
Brennan, who held a sign saying "Stop the War. Preemptive Impeachment," said Bush hasn't offered a reasonable justification for his war plans.
"There's no argument for war," Brennan said. "Every argument they've given is half-true, at best."
"War is not the solution to the problem," agreed Nino Meirkhan, a 43-year-old native of Damascus, Syria, who is now a U.S. citizen and a Houston car salesman. "I am Kurdish, from Syria. I hate Saddam Hussein, but it is up to the Iraqi people to overthrow him."
Wearing a Dallas Cowboys stocking cap and carrying a sign that said, "This great country is going to hell in a Bush basket," Meirkhan said America's focus should be on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Brian Harrison, 21, a history student at the University of Houston and a Green Party member since the 2000 election, said he felt obligated to make the trip to Washington because he knew a lot of people opposed to the war couldn't afford to take off work or pay for the trip.
He opposes the war for three main reasons: the cost of civilian and soldiers' lives; the financial resources that could be better spent at home; and his belief that war would only "further enrich and empower people who already have too much money and power, particularly the oil companies."
But rather than trying to change Bush's mind, he said, "I came to connect with other people opposed to the war, to tell them they're not alone."
The Rev. Dean Tucker, a member of STOP (Southeast Texans Organized for Peace) from Beaumont, said his focus also is on reaching other people.
"We need to wake up to what's going on," said Tucker, 51. "It's a myth that most people want war. Most people I know do not want war. I just want to let President Bush know, we won't stop."
But Tucker said he didn't blame Bush personally.
"We have all fallen and lived less than our ideals," he said. "We all let this happen."
Chronicle wire services contributed to this report.
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