[sixties-l] Antiwar demo--april 20, 2002

From: Ron Jacobs (rjacobs@zoo.uvm.edu)
Date: Wed Apr 24 2002 - 08:29:12 EDT

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    Bringing the Message to the Beast's Belly - A20 in Washington, DC

    by Ron Jacobs

    This was a demonstration I had to attend. The madmen running the world were
    in a severe state of psychosis and threatening to take us all down with
    them. I^d made plans to be on one of the buses going to DC a few weeks ago.
    Then Ariel Sharon unleashed his military assault on the people in the
    Occupied Territories, killing civilians left and right, trashing their
    homes, schools, churches, marketplaces and anything else that his ^moral^
    army felt like trashing in the name of colonial expansion. I knew I had to
    go and there was nothing short of a catastrophic illness that would prevent
    me. So I hopped on the bus the night of April 19th.

    Speaking of the Israeli invasion of Palestine. Rumors of dissension in the
    organizers^ ranks of one of the primary organizations putting this protest
    together over Israel^s actions had filtered up to us in the northern lands.
    Supposedly, there were those in the A20Stop the War coalition who didn^t
    want to condemn Israel^s death and destruction, considering this violation
    of every human right justified. If this was true, it meant that once again
    the Zionist apologists in the peace movement were attempting to convince
    the rest of us that any war Israel fought was not to be considered a war.
    How this dynamic works I have never been certain. What^s good for the USA
    goose is also good for the Israeli gander if you ask me. Wars of expansion
    are wars of expansion. Israel is the US bulldog in the Middle East, no
    matter what we are told about it being the other way around. Israel is
    immorally occupying territories with US funds and support in violation of
    international law. If the situation were reversed, one could be damn
    certain that the US would be calling for war against the Palestinian
    invaders. To use Washington^s reasoning, Israel^s occupation of Palestine
    is as illegal as Iraq^s 1990 occupation of Kuwait. Yet, of course, US
    bombers are not bombing Tel Aviv.

    On Friday the 19th of April, I showed up at the meeting place we had been
    given by the Burlington AntiWar Coalition. Dozens of other folks were
    there, as were two chartered buses and several vans. Young and old and
    representing a variety of concerns ranging from peace to opposition to
    capitalist globalization, we talked amongst ourselves until the drivers
    were ready. Then we boarded our vehicles and headed into the Vermont night.
    Our bus stopped at three more Vermont towns to pick up another three dozen
    protestors before we hit the open highway. All in all, close to two hundred
    Vermonters traveled in this set of arranged rides. Probably another hundred
    or so went down in their own vehicles or on other forms of transport.

    After a ten hour ride that went smoothly except for a bit of a slowdown
    around New York City due to road work taking place on the George Washington
    Bridge, we disembarked at the New Carrolton Metro stop^a mere six stops
    from the Federal Triangle^a point almost in the center of where the four
    feeder rallies were to occur. Once out of the metro, I bought a coffee or
    two and headed over to the Ellipse with Will Miller and few other
    compatriots. This was where the largest of the scheduled opening rallies
    was to be held. It was sponsored by the ANSWER coalition (Act Now to Stop
    War and End Racism)^a loose- knit coalition of antiwar, anti-imperialist,
    anti-racist, and Palestinian support organizations organized under the
    auspices of the International Action Center.

    The other three rallies were organized somewhat along these lines: A20Stop
    the War^a coalition of peace and youth groups originally called by the
    Youth and Student Mobilization for Peace and Justice, the Mobilization for
    Global Justice^an adhoc conglomeration of groups opposed to capitalist
    globalization featuring many of the folks and groups involved in every
    anti- capitalist rally from Seattle on, and the Palestine Solidarity
    Coalition^ exactly what it sounds like, this rally was organized by groups
    in support of the liberation of Palestine from the Zionist government of
    Israel. Somewhat secular in nature, it espoused many of the same demands as
    those put forth at the ANSWER rally.

    Anyhow, our group arrived at the ANSWER rally on the Ellipse and made plans
    to meet back up later. I headed off to make my rounds of the literature
    tables that were springing up on the edge of the growing crowd. When I
    first arrived I estimated approximately 3000 people had preceded me. As I
    wandered around, more and more protestors streamed into the sunny green
    just south of the White House. Some carried signs opposing the war on
    Afghanistan and Colombia. Other signs called for an end to the detention of
    the those rounded up in the wake of 911 and in Camp Xray in Cuba. Still
    others had buttons spoofing the idiocy of GW Bush and the Puritan fascism
    of John Ashcroft. The dominant symbol of the day, however, were the
    Palestinian flags, stickers, and t-shirts that simply said Free Palestine.
    It was becoming obvious that this day was going to be one of those times
    when the events in the world superseded any plans the organizers may have
    had^the demand for a liberated Palestine was going to be the order of the
    day. The blatant disregard for the humanity of the Palestinians by Israel^s
    army in the past weeks had finally been enough. People in the United States
    were going to address this issue and bring it home that the occupation and
    its terror would no longer be ignored.

    The people just kept coming. Muslim families with the women in full burqa
    from Islamic centers and mosques around the country, young Arab and Arab-
    American men and women dressed in the current style of American teenagers
    with the red, black, green and white Palestinian flag tied around their
    neck like a cape, African-Americans wearing the red, black and green of
    Africa on their shirt and a small Palestinian flag stuck in their headgear,
    Asian-Americans, Latinos, members of Jewish congregations carrying signs
    opposing the occupation, and lots of white folk. They just kept streaming
    in, occasionally breaking out in chants, with the most popular being Free,
    Free Palestine and End the Occupation, Now! Occasionally one heard Allah
    Akbar^God is Great, or a modified version of one of the standard antiwar
    chants. The sound came and went like waves in the steamy heat. I think I
    can accurately state that I have never been at an antiwar rally in this
    country where there were so many shades of skin tone and cultures

    The speeches began around 11 AM and, after a few of them, I decided to go
    check out the other rallies. This wasn^t because I didn^t want to hear at
    least some of the speakers, especially Pakistani writer and activist Tariq
    Ali, but because I had vowed to attend as many of the feeder rallies as
    possible. So I headed over to the Sylvan Theatre near the Washington
    Monument, which is where the rally sponsored by the A20 Stop the War
    Coalition was going on. As I ambled over in that direction I noticed a
    stage with perhaps 500 people gathered around it. This was the so-called
    Patriot^s rally. It was sponsored by a right-wing group calling itself the
    Free Republic and, from what I could hear, spent most of its time labeling
    the antiwar/anti-capitalist protestors ^parasites^ and quoting George
    Washington and Tom Paine in a context that gave new and most likely
    unintended meaning to these men^s words.

    Interestingly enough, as I had moved out of hearing distance of the ANSWER
    rally, I heard George Washington being quoted there, too. The ANSWER
    speaker was referring to Washington^s warnings against the potential for
    tyranny by government. At day^s end, the only thing one could honestly say
    about this so- called Patriot^s rally was that it had the best sound system
    and the smallest crowd.

    Walking past the lines of tourists waiting to get into the Washington
    Monument and the new concrete barriers all around the structure, I began to
    hear a reggae beat emanating from the A20 Stop the War Coalition stage.
    Upon reaching the rally site, I was struck immediately by two things^the
    smell of burning sage and the difference in the rally^s makeup. There was a
    much higher percentage of young people, which stood to make sense since one
    the original members of the coalition was a nationwide youth and student
    organization founded in the wake of 911 and devoted to opposing war and
    terrorism. In addition, there were many older pacifists in the crowd, at
    the tables around the edges and on the stage. This was a more traditional
    US peace rally-mostly white-skinned, mostly younger, and mostly
    middle-class. Nothing wrong with that, for sure, but a remarkable contrast
    to the gathering a few hundred meters away. I wandered the crowd of 20,000
    or so looking for familiar faces and listening to the music for another 30
    minutes. Then I headed towards the Palestine Solidarity Rally. This rally
    was about a mile further on near Dupont Circle, which is in the Georgetown
    District of DC. Unfortunately I never made it to the rally, for, as I was
    heading that way, I saw a march leaving from the rally site and headed
    towards the A20 Stop the War rally. Apparently, these two groups were to
    meet up there and then converge with the ANSWER rally on Pennsylvania
    Avenue. Assuming that since I had missed one feeder rally already and that
    I would probably miss the other one called by the anti-capitalist
    demonstrators who were in town to protest the war and the IMF/World Bank
    spring meetings occurring that weekend, I headed back to the ANSWER rally,
    hoping to catch the last few speakers.

    When I got back to this rally it had more than doubled in size. There were
    easily 50,000 people in the Ellipse and more were still streaming in. As
    buses from all over the country parked and their passengers disembarked,
    the crowd grew larger and louder. It was pretty much impossible to hear the
    speakers. Too bad we couldn^t have ripped off the sound system from the
    right- winger^s rally across the way. From my vantage point near the
    southeast corner of the Ellipse, I could see both the ANSWER and the A20
    Stop the War rallies. As I listened to clerics from Islamic, Jewish and
    Christian churches, temples and mosques express solidarity and support for
    Palestine and offer a prayer to the God of Abraham, I watched marchers from
    the anti-capitalist and Palestinian solidarity march converge with the
    participants of the A20 Stop the War rally. As these folks begin to line up
    in 14th street, the clerics held their joined hands together in a jubilant
    celebration of humanity^s possibilities. Then, we began to line up on 14th
    Street ourselves. By the time all the marches had converged near the corner
    of 14th and Pennsylvania, the march itself stood forty abreast and several
    city blocks long. The chants of Free Palestine! End the Occupation! and
    with calls for an end to the terrorism of the US ^war on terrorism^ and
    money for social services and rebuilding instead of war were heard
    throughout Washington, DC. Each corner where the march turned was guarded
    by police two rows deep, some on horses and some on motorcycles^all of them
    in full riot gear, yet with their visors back and many with smiles on their
    faces. It was loud, it was large and it was amazing. I had not been at a
    demonstration this spirited and large since one I attended in 1974
    demanding Richard Nixon^s impeachment.

    I stood on a small hill for ten minutes watching the parade. I never saw
    the beginning or the end of it while on that perch. I figured there were
    easily 75,000 to 100,000 participants. There were probably more, since the
    mainstream media and park police put in estimates of 70,000 and they are
    notorious for underestimating crowds of this nature. Either way, the events
    of this day marked a turning point in the history of the Palestinian and
    American peoples. Never again will the Palestinians wonder if they have
    friends in the United States. This march and others like it around the
    country have proven to them that they do. Furthermore, the tremendous
    diversity of philosophies^ political and religious^amongst the people who
    participated (and those that were there in spirit) showed the world that
    Washington^s war on the world is not popular here either. As a young friend
    and organizer summed it up on the bus back to Vermont: ^This was an awesome
    beginning to what can be an awesome movement for freedom and justice.^ I
    say, ^Let^s roll.^

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