Area activists join D.C. anti-war protest

More than a dozen people from the Rockford area endured 14-hour bus rides and sub-freezing temperatures last weekend to participate in the anti-war protest in Washington, D.C. The mass demonstration against a war in Iraq was organized by International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), a coalition of hundreds of peace groups around the world. The event coincided with dozens of protests in other cities (including Rockford), as well as 32 foreign countries.

Twelve 60-passenger buses packed with protesters left Chicago Friday evening and arrived at the D.C. Mall Saturday morning, along with hundreds more from all over the country.As the march began at 1 p.m. (CDT), local organizers estimated the crowd at more than 200,000, with buses still arriving. Their final estimate was 500,000 people.

Washington police later estimated that 30,000 people participated in the march. By the time leaders arrived at the Navy Yards, however, protesters were still passing down Pennsylvania Avenue, more than a mile behind. C-Span later reported that more than 305,000 people were involved in the action by the end of the day.

The march was preceded by a rally in front of the Capitol building, which included speeches from numerous politicians, labor leaders, religious and ethnic group spokespersons, foreign dignitaries and Hollywood film actors.

Ramsey Clark, former U.S. Attorney General from 1961-68, recited a list of “impeachable offenses” he claims President Bush has committed, including violations of the U.S. Constitution and international law. “You cannot be a bystander in this time of peril,” he warned the crowd.

Disabled Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic (Born on the Fourth of July) was wounded 35 years ago on Martin Luther King’s birthday. “You were born to be here, to protest this immoral war,” he shouted to the cheering audience.

Actress Jessica Lange said she spoke as “a mother, a parent and an American woman. We will not learn to live in peace by killing each other’s children.”

The protesters marched peacefully but noisily from the Mall through a working-class neighborhood to the Washington Navy Yards, about 2 miles away. There, they intended to symbolically request an inspection of U.S. weapons of mass destruction.

The Chicago buses contained students, retirees, veterans, teachers and people of all ages. Sara, a health care worker from Chicago, said she was “tired of writing letters” in opposition to the war in Iraq. “I want to put my words into action,” she said.

Linda Goetz, a Rockford librarian, was pleased the protesters were so well-behaved. “I hope we made an impression on Bush,” she said. “I think he heard us…I hope he takes our view into account.”

Sean Halcom traveled from Rockford to Washington to do his part. “If I show I care, maybe others will also. Maybe the president will see that [the peace movement] is so big he has to listen.”

Several speakers invoked the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., citing words and images from the civil rights advocate’s opposition to the Vietnam War. Rev. Jesse Jackson (Rainbow/PUSH Coalition) admonished the President to “choose minds over missiles, negotiation over confrontation, life over death. This [should be] a healing time, a hope time, a peace time,” he said. “Keep hope alive!”

Protest organizers hope the energy generated last week in Washington, D.C., can be carried forward next month. An international week of anti-war resistence is scheduled for the week of Feb. 13-21 with events scheduled in New York City and throughout Europe.

Because of space limitations, a larger photo essay will appear in next week’s issue.

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Editor’s note: See our next issue for a photo essay of the Washington, D.C. protest march.

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