“Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official.”
President Theodore Roosevelt
If you want to see America at its best, come to a demonstration against the Iraq war. Hundreds of thousands from across the United States flew, drove and rode to the nation’s capital, Jan. 27-29, to demand action to end the Iraq war and prevent President Bush from escalating the disaster. They marched, they participated in teach-ins and they lobbied Congress. The events were organized by the antiwar coalition United for Peace and Justice.
These voices for peace present a slice of American patriotism that is seldom acknowledged. Yet as many have often said, “Peace is patriotic.”
Eugene Glazer served in World War II as a medic on hospital trains in France, Belgium and Germany. Marching with the Veterans for Peace contingent, the 91-year-old resident of Boulder, Colo., told the World, “I’m not a pacifist. There are wars of necessity. I took pride, as an American, in fighting fascism, and if I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
“But in this Iraq war we’re dealing with a bunch of lies,” he said. “There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. For a bunch of lies we have over 3,000 soldiers dead, over 20,000 wounded and that’s nothing compared to the number of Iraqis killed — some 600,000.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said, “When we marched against this war four years ago, we were called the ‘lunatic fringe.’ Now we are the moral center. We need a real ‘coalition of the willing’ in Congress with the courage to stop this war.”
Veterans for Peace chair David Cline marched with all the veterans, active duty soldiers and Gold Star families who were at the front of the massive antiwar march.
“The other day President Bush said in his State of the Union message that ‘whatever you voted for, you didn’t vote for failure,’” Cline said.
“He was right. We voted for peace. We voted for an end to the failure of this war in Iraq.”
Academy award-winning actor Susan Sarandon told the World that Congress should “enact into law HR 508, the bill introduced by representatives Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee which, if passed, will bring all the troops home from Iraq in six months. This is the only course of action because this entire war is built on a lie.
“How much more can reasonable men and women take? End the lying, end the war and bring our troops home now.”
Sixteen-year-old Kedar Fluker joined with 10 of his friends, who are part of a rap group from Hartford, Conn., to be part of the peace march. The African American high school student said, “We’re not supporting the war and we strongly disagree with it. We need to be involved with all the issues, including workers rights, but our main focus is to end the war.
“As youth, we are the future. The adults are here to make it better, but we as youth need to be ready to follow their example.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said, “Bush will keep American soldiers dying in Iraq until the next president takes office if he has his way. He doesn’t want to be the one who ‘lost’ Iraq. I think it will take Congress saying, ‘No funding will be allowed except for that needed to withdraw U.S. troops.’
“I have a bill to cut off Bush’s supplemental spending request for the war. Congress must use the power of the purse to stop this war.”
College student Katie Swietlik, 20, majors in photography at Columbia University in Chicago. She traveled to D.C. on the bus with her mother Kathy Randolph.
“I’d like to see a lot of this wasted energy go to productive areas like education, health care, immigration and the environment,” said Swietlik. “I hope that we help show the Bush administration that there’s a lot of funds being wasted in Iraq.”
Randolph told the World she was too young to join the peace movement to end the Vietnam War, and that this trip was something she really wanted to do with her daughter. “It’s something I feel very strongly about,” she said. “I feel frustrated and powerless and needed to take some action through this trip.”
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) is chair of the Out of Iraq Caucus and co-sponsor of HR 508, binding legislation to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. Waters said, “We are determined to keep this debate going until all the troops are home from Iraq. There is a lot of hope. People are setting goals and they have high expectations that we are going to be able to pass legislation.
“The real question is cutting off the money. Our job is to push, push, push until we pass binding legislation to end this war.”
Speaking of Bush’s State of the Union speech, she added, “The fact that he (Bush) made no mention of New Orleans shows it is not on his radar screen. It’s not his priority.”
Sean Vereen, an administrator at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, was interviewed as he marched past the Supreme Court. “The Bush-Cheney foreign policy is pretty disastrous. It’s time for the people to take responsibility for what’s happening. We’re so used to people being disengaged that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think that’s changing. There are so many young people here today. We need to find people who can tell the story so people don’t feel alone.”
Brad Greene, an organizer in Philadelphia for Local 1199 Health Care Employees, SEIU, was marching with a contingent from his union. “Labor’s participation is just tremendous,” he said. “There has been a really big turnout. 1199 came down from New York and Philadelphia with hundreds of members. Labor is mobilizing to end this war but the president is not responding. This is an illegal war and labor is coming out to end it.”
Pepe Lozano and John Wojcik contributed to this story.