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Date: Tue, 21 Jan 2003 16:23:26 -0800
From: radtimes <email@example.com>
Subject: US marchers take to streets in echo of 60s
US marchers take to streets in echo of 60s
As opposition grows, Bush's ratings slump
Matthew Engel in Washington
Monday January 20, 2003
The spirit of the 60s returned to the streets of Washington at the weekend
with a massive protest aimed at stopping the war in Iraq. The rally, the
centrepiece of a day of worldwide demonstrations, was the most impressive
show of opposition to President George Bush's policies in the 16 months of
Mr Bush was at the presidential country retreat, Camp David, while the
hordes trampled the National Mall close to the back garden of the White
House. But the roars of the crowd will have reached him even there, not so
much because of the numbers of the protesters, but because of a growing
sense that public opinion in general may be shifting in their direction.
While the rally was taking place, a new Time-CNN poll was released, showing
the president's approval rating down to 53%, its lowest in any survey since
September 11 2001, with barely half supporting his foreign policy and only
27% believing the economy will improve in the next 12 months.
Traditionally, national pessimism dethrones presidents.
On the Mall there was great pessimism about the future of mankind, but the
optimism about the future of the cause was palpable. After a year of
chuntering, the president's opponents have begun to find a means of
expression. With the Democratic party still fearful of directly opposing Mr
Bush, it is starting on the streets rather than inside the political system.
In the absence of turnstiles and ticket sales, exact numbers on these
occasions are notoriously elusive. Police did not quarrel with the
organisers' estimate of 500,000, though that seemed excessive. Certainly,
there can hardly have been less than 100,000, especially bearing in mind
the day's one undeniable statistic: the temperature never rose above -4C
(25F), and the grass in front of the Capitol where everyone gathered was
more like tundra. Many local people appeared briefly, heard a couple of the
three dozen speeches, then retreated to their central heating.
Some people, however, had come too far to make that an option. Adam
Dekeyrel travelled down with two busloads of protesters on the 22-hour
journey from Rochester, Minnesota. He insisted they were the vanguard of
popular feeling: "There's a lot of people staying at home afraid to say
anything," he said. "They're not likely to get involved because they don't
know how to get involved."
Other coaches came from across the eastern half of the US, with 22 from the
small state of Vermont alone. There were protests in San Francisco
(organisers' estimate: 200,000 people; police estimate: 55,000) and in
smaller cities, most of them as frigid as Washington, across the country.
There was a small pro-Bush counter-demonstration on the Mall involving
about three dozen people. There were no clashes - only two arrests were
reported all day - but the minority did somehow look colder than everyone
else. They invoked the patriotic dead by standing near the Vietnam war
memorial, but many soldiers who fought in Vietnam were also there, on the
other side of the argument.
"In the history of the US we do not start or initiate conflict," said Mike
Blankenship of North Carolina, a former marine. "This runs counter to
everything that's American."
"We did at least go into Vietnam with the idea that we were fighting for
liberty, even if it was a bad idea," said Charlie Shobe of Maryland. "This
one there's no doubt we're going in for oil."
The No Blood for Oil theme ran through many of the placards held by the
demonstrators. Others invoked the memory of Martin Luther King, whose
birthday is celebrated as a public holiday in the US today.
The anti-war rally was organised by International Answer (Act Now To Stop
War and End Racism), whose leading light is Ramsey Clark, himself on the
far side of the fence during the Vietnam war when he was Lyndon Johnson's
attorney-general. Answer was organising small and unfocused protests less
than three weeks after the September 11 attacks, but its appeal has grown
exponentially since Iraq took centre stage. There was a big protest in
Washington last October, almost ignored by the media. Stung by criticism of
their coverage then, the main US papers yesterday gave this event lavish
Despite Mr Clark's presence, Answer's roots are on the extreme left of
American politics, and they have had trouble attracting frontline
politicians to their platforms. The main speakers in Washington were Ron
Kovic, the anti-war activist who was author of Born on the Fourth of July,
Jessica Lange, the actor, and the Rev Jesse Jackson, the bandwagon-jumper.
The headliners in San Francisco were the 60s folk singer Joan Baez and
Martin Sheen, who plays the president in The West Wing but does not aspire
to be one.
The next breakthrough will come if one of the real Democratic aspirants for
the presidency chooses to take over the Sheen role. The Rev Al Sharpton, a
declared candidate but not a serious one, was a speaker on the Mall.
However, it is no longer unthinkable that, say, John Kerry, the
Massachusetts senator and Vietnam veteran, might be emboldened enough by
the polls to assume leadership of the anti-war movement.
The president's iron grip on Americans' patriotic impulses is undoubtedly
weakening. As one anti-war poster in the Mall put it: "It's OUR flag too."
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