Protesters demand justice for hurricane survivors

WASHINGTON — An estimated 300,000 antiwar demonstrators marched past the White House Sept. 24 chanting, “End the war now — Bring the troops home!” It was the mightiest peace outpouring since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

The crowd assembled following a rally on the Ellipse behind the White House. It was led by Gold Star Families for Peace, Military Families Speak Out and Iraq war veterans, some of them active duty and wearing their uniforms. An estimated 250 military families marched.

Mary Williams, a resident of Washington, was marching with a photo of her nephew Ignatius C. Williams, a U.S. Army Sgt. Major. “He’s been deployed in Baghdad since January,” she said. “It’s his second tour. He served a year in Afghanistan. His family lives in Lafayette, La. They were evacuated during Hurricane Katrina. Now they’ve been forced to flee again from Rita. He’s worried sick. He wants to come home. They need him here.”

The procession packed 15th Street so tightly the crowd could barely move, turning on Pennsylvania Avenue and inching past the White House. It was the first time in years protest marches have been permitted so near the Executive Mansion. It then looped back for a second rally on the mall.

Tens of thousands of college students marched as well as members of many religious denominations. Members of unions like Local 1199, Service Employees International Union, American Federation of Teachers and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers were in the parade.

Beth Cagan, a professor of social work at a community college in Cleveland, told the World, “Its great to see so many people rejecting policies that have been so terrible for our country and the world. The peace movement is growing.”

Dancer Davis came with nearly 40 other people from Oregon. She marched with a banner bearing the inscription “Rural Organizing Project,” explaining, “Family farmers can’t afford to farm any more. Our young people are being sucked up by this war machine. Half the casualties in this war are from rural America.”

The march was the highpoint of a weekend of antiwar action that coincided with similar marches in San Francisco, London and other cities and towns around the world. It also included mass lobbying Monday, Sept. 26, on Capitol Hill sponsored by United For Peace and Justice (UFPJ) to demand that lawmakers support an “exit strategy” from Iraq and reconstruction at home.

A total of 370 protesters sat down in front of the White House Sept. 26 and were arrested. Pat Alviso whose son, a Marine, is currently deployed in Iraq, told the crowd just minutes before the arrests, “We don’t want to be arrested. We want President Bush to come out and explain to us the noble cause our children are dying for.”

Code Pink women carried bundles of petitions perched on their heads to the West Gate. “We collected 1 million signatures,” Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin told the World. “It represents many more millions of Americans who want the war to end.” She and other Code Pink members were among those arrested. As police carried Gold Star mother Cindy Sheehan to a police van, the crowd chanted, “Arrest Bush!” and “The whole world is watching!”

Also handcuffed and led to a police van was Judith Le Blanc, a leader of the Communist Party USA as well as a leader of United for Peace and Justice. Other CPUSA leaders arrested included Libero Della Piana, Esther Moroze, Bill Davis and Gabe Falsetta.

Speaking to the Saturday rally on the Ellipse, UFPJ co-chairperson Leslie Cagan blasted the right-wing dominated Congress as “co-conspirators” in Bush’s illegal Iraq war. “Our nation is at a crossroads,” she said. “Will we continue on the path of greed and empire building or will we turn this country around and start to rebuild the Gulf Coast.”

The Rev. Jesse Jackson said, “We’ll change the Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008. End the war! Bring the troops home now!”

Sheehan branded the Bush administration an “out of control, criminal government that condones torture.” Gesturing toward the White House she thundered, “How many other people’s children will you sacrifice for a lie? Not one more.”

The crowd erupted in a chant, “Not one more!”

AFL-CIO Executive Council member Nancy Wohlforth said the labor movement and the peace movement, “must take a united stand against the lies of this administration. FEMA’s refusal to rescue 150,000 poor Black people in New Orleans exposes what this administration is all about. This administration doesn’t give a damn what happens to those people. Halliburton got the first contract for New Orleans, Halliburton that is stealing Iraq from the Iraqi people.”

Curtis Mohammad, chairperson of the New Orleans-based Community Labor Alliance, called for a massive labor-backed effort to locate nearly 1 million evacuees scattered across the nation by Katrina and Rita. He demanded massive reconstruction for the Gulf region with the people given a decisive voice in the project. “Stop the war against poor and Black people in America,” he shouted.

Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) said, “The cruel wind of disenfranchisement blew into Florida and Ohio. The American people have been forced to endure fraud in two elections, in 2000 and 2004. An ill wind doesn’t have to blow. A people united can stop wars, tear down the mightiest walls of oppression.”

McKinney told the World that Congress must halt the no-bid contracts doled out to corporations with corrupt ties to Bush and Cheney, both in Iraq and in our Gulf states. “That assistance should be given without strings to the victims who need it, not to Halliburton and Blackwater,” she said, referring to a private security firm that operated in Baghdad and has now been given a plush no-bid contract by the Department of Homeland Security to patrol New Orleans.

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