CHICAGO – Singing “peace, salaam, shalom” 2,000 clergy and lay worshipers solemnly paraded through the city’s Gold Coast on Feb. 23 to bear witness to the casualties of a U.S. pre-emptive war on Iraq. The action was sponsored by United for Peace: Faithful Citizenship, a growing interfaith anti-war coalition in Chicago.

Marchers gathered for a program at Holy Name Cathedral then marched in a procession, carrying black coffins labeled “U.S. and Iraqi soldiers,” “Iraqi civilians,” “immigrants and refugees,” “infants” and “homeless and hungry” to symbolize the colossal human cost of a war. Many carried posters of Iraqi children entitled “collateral damage.”

Banners identified worshipers from countless churches, mosques and temples across Chicago. They were joined by many neighborhood peace organizations.

When marchers arrived at St. James Cathedral for an outdoor program, the coffins were opened and origami peace cranes were scattered among the crowd. The cranes historically symbolize peace, having first been produced by children following the first use of weapons of mass destruction by the U.S. on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.

“We will work to ensure these casualties do not come to pass. But when war causes casualties they [the Bush administration] will turn to the religious community to bury the dead. This is our role. But our larger role is to prevent the deaths in the first place,” said David Bebb Jones, a retired Presbyterian Minister.

“We are the only ones to use the atom bomb. This Bill of Rights that we have celebrated is being eroded day by day,” he said.

Jones noted that the most obvious victims would be the war dead. But that millions would suffer in obscurity including the homeless and hungry in the United States.

“Every state is in fiscal crisis. There’s money for war but not for warming,” he said. Jones then hoisted his two-year old granddaughter onto the platform. He proudly said it was her second peace march in a week.

“Children and infants would also be victims,” he said, “but we want them to know a world of peace and justice. We want the coffins to be unused.”

This is an unjustified pre-emptive war,” declared Karim Irfan, chair of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Chicago. “Millions will suffer. We represent the conscience of our nation. The voice of truth and what’s right.”

Underneath the solemnity of the occasion was a growing anger that the Bush administration is taking the world to the brink of catastrophe.

“We are the victims of a dictatorship,” fumed Mary Ditto to the World.

“We should never give legitimacy to a stolen election,” said Rev. Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. “We know what weapons Saddam has – we have the receipts. Saddam is contained. Bush is running wild.”

Jackson blasted the arrogance of those planning the war policy and the corporate mass media which was acting as a cheerleader. He noted the waste of militarism while 5/6 of the world is trapped in poverty.

Earlier Bishop Joseph Sprague of the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church told a standing room only gathering at Holy Name Cathedral that “grassroots opposition” is the most potent weapon in the world with which to challenge the domination of the Bush administration. Sprague gave a ringing call for unrelenting resistance to the Bush war policy.

The author can be reached at jbachtell@ameritech.com

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