CHICAGO – More than 10,000 Chicagoans jammed Daley Center Plaza on March 16 in the largest peace demonstration here since the Vietnam War, to demand that the Bush administration allow United Nations weapons inspectors to complete the job of disarming Iraq rather than resorting to war.

“Better a disarmament process that is too slow than a drive to war that is too fast,” Henry Bayer, director of Council 31 of the State, County and Municipal Workers (AFSCME) told the crowd. Council 31 was one of a group of labor organizations that had initiated the event in coalition with community, student and faith-based organizations.

The diverse crowd included many families. On this warm sunny day, children slid down the giant Picasso sculpture and decorated it with anti-war chalk slogans and illustrations that would have made the artist proud.

Rev. Calvin Morris, executive director of the Community Renewal Society and rally co-chair, drew applause and whistles when he said, “People have a right to disagree and to protest. We who believe in freedom can’t rest. Those who expressed concern before war started should continue to express those concerns.”

“The administration has not been able to convince many of us and most of the world that their policies are correct,” Morris told the World. “There are unknown and unforeseeable consequences with Bush’s decision to wage unilateral war.”

Marilyn Katz, who co-chaired the rally with Morris, reminded demonstrators that Chicago was one of the more than 150 cities to pass a resolution against a preemptive strike on Iraq. “Congress may have lost its voice but we haven’t,” she added.

In an interview the next day, Katz, a leader of Chicagoans Against War in Iraq (CAWI), said, “Bush’s decision to plunge the country into war came without the consent of U.S. citizens and in defiance of the religious and political leadership of the world.”

Katz said, “CAWI will continue to fight for peace and diplomacy, for the protection of civil liberties and social justice at home, and to ensure that, in the next election, democracy is restored in the United States.” This expressed the sentiments of many speakers at the rally.

William Lucy, international secretary-treasurer of AFSCME, who had come from Washington to participate in the demonstration, lampooned Bush’s “amateur efforts” to build a coalition of the “bought off and bought up.” “We have no moral obligation to support an unjust war,” he said.

Tom Balanoff, an international vice president of the Service Employees Union, said the Sunday rally was an exercise in unity around the slogan, “No war!”

“Instead of war with Iraq we should have a war on poverty, a war for health care and for livable wage jobs,” he said. Balanoff, like others, slammed Bush for undermining “our fundamental rights, our civil liberties, our freedoms – this is the threat to homeland security.”

Rev. Ira Acree, of the Westside Baptist Ministers Conference, denounced the “wrong war, at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. Instead of saying ‘God Bless America’ we will have to say ‘God forgive America.’”

Tim Leahy, secretary-treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor, another of the dozen labor leaders to speak, said, “Our quarrel is not with the men and women in uniform but with the Bush administration. Today they are members of the armed forces in a far away country. Last month many of them were pipefitters, carpenters or steel workers who belonged to our unions and lived in our communities.”

“I said a prayer for my boys today,” said Jesus Garcia, director of the Little Village Development Corporation, noting his sons were of age to be sent to war. “We live at a dangerous crossroads of history. I am happy to see people from all walks of life marching for peace and justice.”

Jerry Zero, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 705, one of the sponsoring unions, spoke proudly of the fact that many Chicago labor leaders had endorsed the rally. “It took years for that to happen during the Vietnam War. Now we’re up front.”

Many participants came with hand-painted signs. Betty Harris, a sociology teacher at a local junior college, had one reading “It’s the Middle East, not the Wild West.”

“There’s no other explanation for the Bush-Cheney drive to war except oil,” she said standing beside two teenagers, one with a sign reading “Save America/Spare Iraq/Make Texas/Take him back,” the other with one saying in both Spanish and English: “Our parents are not playthings for Bush.”

Other speakers included representatives from Illinois AFL-CIO, PUSH/Rainbow Coalition, Council of Muslim Organizations, Chicago Religious Leadership Council, Jobs with Justice, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, several students, elected officials and author Studs Terkel.

The rally ended with a spirited march through the downtown Loop.

Fred Gaboury can be reached at fgab708@aol.com. John Bachtell can be reached at jbachtell@amertech.net.

PDF version of ‘Chicago labor, clergy lead rally for peace’

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