BOSTON – Led by a contingent of war veterans and military families, tens of thousands of New Englanders marched and rallied here March 20, to protest the Bush administration’s war against Iraq. The march and rally, organized by the Boston-area United for Justice with Peace, drew participants from throughout the six-state area.

The estimated 50,000 protesters streamed into the Boston Common from various directions forming feeder marches from different communities and public transportation centers. One of the feeders, a contingent of about 100 bicyclists organized by the non-profit Bikes not Bombs organization, drew loud applause from the crowd as they entered the Commons.

A theme seen throughout the anti-war demonstration was that protesting the policies of George W. Bush’s government is not un-American. There were signs and bumper stickers reading, “Americans for Peace,” “Peace is Patriotic,” “Don’t question my patriotism,” “Pro-U.S.A. – Anti-war,” “Proud to be another American against war,” “I want my flag back” and “This war is un-American.”

Echoing that sentiment, Boston City Councilor Felix Arroyo told the demonstrators, “You are the real freedom fighters.” Arroyo sent a letter to President Bush signed by a majority of the members of the Boston City Council saying, “Absent an imminent threat, we oppose a war in Iraq that expends scarce resources that could be used to fund federal projects and programs that more directly benefit Boston and its residents. Moreover, these economic costs do not include the potential cost in human lives and injuries to the Boston area men and women who will be asked to participate.”

The demonstration showed the diversity of the peace sentiment in the region in terms of race, nationality, age, religion and political points of view. The political viewpoints of the protesters ranged from those of the Communist Party, which marched behind a large red banner calling for “Health care not Warfare,” to the Republicans for Peace group.

One of the speakers, José Cruz, a sophomore from Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, told the crowd about the lack of funding for public education. He said, “I don’t mind sharing, but, damn, one book for three students? I bet the army doesn’t have to share guns.” Cruz is associated with the Center for Teen Empowerment, an organization that “employs youth … as catalysts for social and institutional change through organizing in their schools and communities …”

Lynn Meza, a former defense worker at GE in Lynn, Mass., and retired vice president of Local 201 International Union of Electrical Workers, said, “The real Axis of Evil are not the countries listed by Bush,” but “the oil barons [who] have already made their plans” to take control of the Iraqi oil fields.

Rebecca Butler, of Boston, a violence prevention consultant told the World the Iraq crisis could have been dealt with through diplomacy, but the Bush administration had decided on violence. Butler, who rode into the demonstration with the Bikes not Bombs contingent, said that she started riding her bicycle everywhere as a protest against the first Gulf War, which she said was also for the benefit of the oil companies.

On the way into the Commons, the Bikes not Bombs contingent passed a small number of people who held a pro-war counter-demonstration. One of these cried out, “We should kill them all” in reference to the Iraqis, while another held a sign that read, “U.S. Military ‘Victory Tour’ – March ’02 Kabul – March ’03 Baghdad – March ’04 Paris.” The pro-war group followed and heckled the anti-war march prompting one police officer to say, “Oh no, here come the warmongers.”

Jerry Fishbein, director of Local 767 Service Employees International Union, said he was there “to join with other working people to fight this real tragedy that is wasting the lives of working people in the United States and Iraq.”

Rebecca Minnick, a social worker from Portland, Maine, said, “There are alternatives to war. The real threats to the country are the budget cuts” of needed social services.

Gina Melaragno, a biology student from the University of Southern Maine, criticized the administration for putting the country “in danger. We are creating a network of fundamentalist right-wingers.”

Sean Flaherty, who served in the Marine Corp infantry as a machine gunner from 1995 to 1999, told the World, “The U.S. as the sole superpower should have the super intelligence to lead the world into diplomatic means of solving the world’s problems and crisis.”

Mandie Yanasak, a member of the Boston Campus Anti-War Coalition and a junior at Emerson College, told the World the Student Senate passed an anti-war resolution. “War is shaping the future of the world where we are going to live.”

María Elena Letona, executive director of Centro Presente, said, “Bush is not only waging war against Iraq, but also against the communities of immigrants, the poor and people of color.”

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