Momentum builds for March 20 peace rallies

NEW YORK – Preparations are well under way for another major display of antiwar sentiment here on March 20, the one-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

“People are responding to this because of the growing recognition that Bush lied about why he went to war,” said Hany Khalil, a leader of United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), in a Feb. 18 telephone interview. “It’s been in debate for more than a year and a half, but that question really came through after U.S. weapons inspector David Kay announced that as far as he could tell there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”

Khalil continued: “Bush is vulnerable and people are ready to come together with thousands of others to express their opposition to this war in Iraq and their opposition to the Bush agenda at home and abroad. They see March 20 as an important way to raise issues of peace and justice in this election year, and to keep them at the top of the agenda. They see this as a way to press any candidate – John Kerry or whoever – to come out for bringing the troops home now.”

A broad array of unions, community organizations, peace and youth groups – some 300 in all, including the UFPJ – have endorsed the action, which is being built by the March 20th Mobilizing Committee. Also participating is the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition, which organized last year’s “Books Not Bombs” student strike. The UFPJ organized last year’s huge peace demonstrations on Feb. 15 and March 20.

Within the past week both Communications Workers of America Local 1180 and Service Employees International Union Local 1199 have endorsed the demonstration. Local 1199 represents 200,000 health care workers in New York.

“Unions in New York City in particular have a largely African American, Latino and immigrant base,” said Khalil. “Their participation in this demonstration reflects the strong antiwar sentiment in those critical communities.”

According to organizers, the coalition will have hundreds of volunteers leafleting in locations around New York City each weekend from now until the demonstration. In addition to that, says outreach co-coordinator Leslie Kielson, volunteers will target subway stops, concerts, sporting events, and anywhere else people congregate.

The Mobilizing Committee is organizing for March 20 as a regional component of a nationally-coordinated day of action. Already over 66 different cities and towns have listed events with UFPJ, including a demonstration of military families in Fayetteville, N.C., the home of the Fort Bragg military base.

Worldwide demonstrations against war and occupation are expected to take place on the same day.

The author can be reached at dmargolis@cpusa.org.