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Rebuilding Iraq

Rallies around globe press for peace

Thousands join D.C. protest

By Thanassis Cambanis, Globe Staff, 1/19/2003

ASHINGTON -- Tens of thousands of people converged on the nation's capital to protest American preparations to invade Iraq, in what organizers said was the largest rally in a coordinated display of antiwar sentiment across the globe.

Organizers said the dozens of protests across the United States and in cities from Tokyo to Paris yesterday heralded the coming of age for a peace movement that has been gathering momentum since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"We stand here today, a new generation of antiwar activists," Peta Lindsay, a protest organizer from International A.N.S.W.E.R., or Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, told the crowd. "This is just beginning. We will stop this war."

The White House insists it has not made any decisions about a war in Iraq yet, and the protesters yesterday acknowledged that with such chants as "Stop the war before it starts."

Police in Washington do not estimate attendance at rallies, but organizers said that at least 200,000 people had taken part -- even more than at an October peace rally in the capital. Washington police said 30,000 followed the march route from the National Mall.

At its peak, the crowd stretched from the empty reflecting pool at the Capitol building almost as far as the Washington Monument, chanting slogans such as "No Attack In Iraq" and carrying signs that read "No Blood for Oil" and "Stop Bush."

Protesters also gathered in smaller cities such as Lansing, Mich., as well as staging larger rallies in cities such as San Francisco, where tens of thousands packed downtown streets, holding signs that read "Peace for All Nations" and "Patriots for Peace."

In Portland, Ore., several thousand people marched through downtown streets that resounded with drums and peace hymns. Patricia Panzer, 47, of suburban Beaverton was attending her first protest with her 17-year-old daughter, Laura, to show "that it's not just the radical left who oppose this war."

Abroad, antiwar marchers took to the streets in Hong Kong, Lahore, Moscow and Christchurch, New Zealand. Students wearing face masks lampooning President Bush or carrying toy guns with flowers rallied in Tokyo.

The pre emptive peace movement has had little effect on US policy so far, with Congress voting overwhelmingly last fall to grant the president authority to take military action. But city councils have passed antiwar resolutions, including one in Chicago that drew widespread attention last week, and recent polls show a growing number of Americans believe President Bush hasn't made an effective case for war yet.

The White House has not expressed any concern about the polls or the antiwar movement. "The president welcomes the fact that we are a democracy and people in the United States, unlike Iraq, are free to protest and to make their case known," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Thursday. "And that's a time- honored part of American tradition, and the president fully understands it. It's a strength of our democracy."

The Washington rally attracted leftist demonstrators who seem to show up at every public protest: Free Palestine, Free Mumia, and the US Communist Party.

But the wide array of first-time protesters suggested that the antiwar movement is drawing from a broader base.

"This is the first time I've been to anything like this," said Bruce Pyburn, 43, who came to the march from Porter, Maine, with his 12-year-old son Jeremy.

Pyburn supported Operation Desert Storm in 1991. But after his son began asking about the current US preparations for another possible war in Iraq, Pyburn said, he concluded there was no legitimate reason to fight Saddam Hussein this time around.

"I hope the president sees that contrary to what the media says about his popularity, there is a significant number of people who oppose this," Pyburn said. "I don't think it's a security issue."

He came in a convoy of more than a dozen buses from Maine carrying 600 people. Others traveled from Wisconsin, Michigan, and Florida. Some spent as long as 20 hours to get to Washington by 11 a.m. yesterday.

Three dozen people staged a calm counterprotest by the Vietnam War Memorial.

In a message televised on state-run television in Iraq, President Saddam Hussein praised the demonstrations as evidence of international support for Iraq.

The protesters "are supporting you because they know that evildoers target Iraq to silence any dissenting voice to their evil and destructive policies," Hussein told senior military officers and his son Qusay, the commander of the elite Republican Guards.

In Washington, dozens of speakers on stage addressed the crowd, which braved 20-degree temperatures for the two-hour rally on the National Mall before marching to the Navy Yard on the Potomac River.

"The path this administration is on is wrong and we object. It is an immoral war they are planning and we must not be silenced," actress Jessica Lange told the crowd. "All this talk of war, all this rhetoric, has been an excellent cover, an excellent camouflage, to turn back the clock on civil rights, on women's rights, on social justice, and on environmental policies."

International A.N.S.W.E.R. timed the nationwide series of rallies to coincide with the Martin Luther King holiday weekend. Several speakers in Washington -- most notably the Rev. Jesse Jackson -- cited King's opposition to the Vietnam War.

"If we launch a pre emptive strike on Iraq, we've lost all moral authority," Jackson said.

He also said that unlike in the Vietnam era, this time it was political rather than military leaders pushing for war.

"It should certainly give us pause when we consider that so many of our generals and military leaders have expressed skepticism about the plans for war and occupation," Jackson said.

Many of the protesters milling around before the march seemed more passionate about their hand-lettered antiwar signs than the speeches blaring through 10-foot-high speakers.

"It was critically important that I come here," said Anna Schleelein, 20, a sophomore at Boston College, who made her first trip ever to Washington in part to express frustration with her apolitical peers.

"There are a lot of kids who haven't thought through their position on this," she said. She wore a pin reading "Peace is Patriotic" on top of her BC Eagles T-shirt. "I've been really disappointed with the poor showing and apathy of students in Boston."

Most noteworthy, though, were the quiet knots of families and older people, many of whom said they were surprised to find themselves drawn to the event.

One of them was Mary Ann Keller, 64, of Chesapeake, Va., who said the Sept. 11 attacks raised her political consciousness. Keller said only over the last year did she start paying attention to US foreign policy, concluding that a military campaign in Iraq would only make America more vulnerable.

"I never protested anything before in my life," Keller said. "But since Sept. 11, I think in many ways Osama bin Laden has won, because we're in such fear."

Scott M. Cooper, who came to the rally from Boston with the New England Committee to Defend Palestine, said Americans were coming to realize that a war in Iraq could lead to an imperial America, hated around the world.

"Bush wants to build an empire," he said. "There's no question that people should be out on the streets protesting the war."

Material from Globe correspondent Sally Bourrie and the Associated Press was used in this report.

Thanassis Cambanis can be reached at tcambanis@globe.com.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 1/19/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.





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