Nationwide, the call is for peace

Marilyn Bechtel, Joe Bernick, Marc Brodine, Jesus Eligio, Paul Hill, Pepe Lozano, John Rummel, Ben Sears and Tim Wheeler reporting.

“The people believe that peace is possible and we know that we are here to make it happen,” Rep. Danny Davis told thousands in Chicago Oct. 27 rallying for an end to the Iraq war. “We have to keep the heat on,” declared Davis, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and longtime progressive leader. “Let’s stop the funding, let’s stop the war, let’s bring the troops home.”

That was the theme of 11 regional demonstrations across the country, along with solidarity actions in smaller towns, organized by the United for Peace and Justice coalition.

Diverse antiwar outpouring

Chicago’s demonstration indicated the breadth of the public antiwar sentiment, with significant participation by elected officials, labor leaders and the African American and Mexican American communities.

Davis was joined on the platform by Illinois Congressmembers Jan Schakowsky and Luis Gutierrez, several Chicago aldermen, Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Dave Newby, Chicago Federation of Labor President Dennis Gannon and other leaders from the city’s African American and Mexican American communities and peace groups. Many stressed the war’s financial burden on the city.

African American churches from Chicago’s South Side brought several hundred members to the rally. Unite Here, the Service Employees and Steelworker retirees had contingents. Hundreds traveled from Michigan and Missouri on “peace trains” and buses, and others came from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana.

On the East Coast

About 45,000 marched in New York City, where they applauded Roger Toussaint, president of Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union, leaders of the immigrant community and Gold Star family members. Toussaint told the crowd, “Demonstrations like this, political action, teach-ins, direct action — that’s what it’s going to take to end this war.”

In Philadelphia, heavy rain stopped right on schedule for a “Human Chain for Peace” stretching 3 miles from Independence Hall to the Veterans Administration hospital in West Philadelphia. The chain then formed a march of some 5,000 through Center City to a rally on Independence Mall.

U.S. Labor Against the War marchers carried a long banner proclaiming, “Jobs, health care, housing, education: Human needs, not war and occupation.”

John Meyerson, political action director for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, told the World, “The Philadelphia Labor Council, one of the largest in the country, was the first labor council to come out against the war. It’s a recognition that working people are against this war. It isn’t a ‘hippie vs. hardhats’ thing anymore.”

Celeste Zappala, mother of a National Guardsman killed in Iraq, told the crowd, “We stand here with you and cry out for our son, Sherwood Baker, ‘Never again a war based on lies.’ We have lost some of the best of America and a piece of our future.”

Orlando, Fla., saw the largest antiwar demonstration in its history, with a crowd of more than 3,000 flowing into Robinson Avenue, and filling the streets, curb to curb, for blocks, in rain that turned to a downpour. Speakers included Central Florida AFL-CIO head Debra Booth, Rep. Corinne Brown (D-Fla.), and leaders and members of Veterans for Peace, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Jobs with Justice and the NAACP.

From the desert to the Gulf Coast

Tucson had its largest march against the war since Bush declared “mission accomplished,” with hundreds marching the mile and a half from the University of Arizona to a rally at De Anza Park addressed by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), local elected officials, immigrant rights leaders and others.

In New Orleans, a diverse, exuberant crowd of over 300 converged on Washington Square for a rally that included parents of soldiers in Iraq, veterans, the president of Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and members of other faith-based and community groups followed by a spirited march through the French Quarter. Linking the cost of the war to the city’s post-Katrina catastrophe, UFPJ national organizer Judith Le Blanc reminded the crowd that Martin Luther King once said about the Vietnam War, “When the bombs are dropped, they explode in our own communities.”

Julie Graybill of the New Orleans Coalition Against the War told the World, “I’m here to do my part not only in ending the war but also in rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.”

Le Blanc noted that the event had “brought together Katrina survivors and community organizers, lifelong residents who have children serving in Iraq and faith-based groups.” She pointed out that one year of taxes spent on the war from New Orleans “could be used to rebuild 14 elementary schools or could rebuild 100,000 homes with renewable energy.”

Labor was in the house

Organizers estimated the crowd in San Francisco at 30,000. A labor contingent drew nearly a thousand marchers carrying banners from many unions. Sharon Cornu, head of the Alameda County Central Labor Council, told the San Francisco Chronicle it was the first time all seven Bay Area labor councils worked together to urge union members to participate.

And in the Pacific Northwest, over 3,000 participated in Seattle’s march and rally, including several busloads/car loads from Portland and Eugene, Ore., from Vancouver, Canada, and from towns all over Washington, including Tacoma, Olympia, Yakima and Bellingham. Speakers included local labor leaders, an injured Iraq war vet, peace activists, and international solidarity activists, plus singing by the Seattle Labor Chorus and Raging Grannies.

Other regional rallies took place in Boston, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles and Jonesborough, Tenn.

War spending vs. people’s needs

Addressing the Chicago rally, Rep. Schakowsky, House chief deputy whip and Out of Iraq Caucus member, emphasized that over $1 trillion has been spent on the war, $13 million every hour. That money could be used to support health care for children, she said. “Yet the president vetoed SCHIP [the bill passed by Congress to expand the children’s health insurance program].”

Moreover, said Schakowsky, the Bush administration is “suggesting the way out of Iraq is to attack Iran, and we say, ‘No way.’”

“The American people say enough is enough, and we need to take this message to Congress and tell Bush no more money for war,” she said. “We are going to win if we stick together. We are warriors for peace.”

Alderman Joe Moore noted, “Chicago taxpayers have paid $4.8 billion on the war.” That money could have been used for affordable housing, public education, health care and Chicago’s transit system, he said.

‘We refuse to be cannon fodder’

Anita Rico from the community youth group El Zocalo Urbano told the rally, “It’s time for the youth to stand up because it is us who are being sent to Iraq to fight this dirty war.”

In the crowd were four African American students from a high school on the city’s West Side, who said they heard about the demonstration in their history class.

Tyra Steverson, 15, said when she read about the war and so many children dying, “I thought it was wrong and I try to imagine myself in their shoes.” Eboné Green, also 15, said, “That money on the war could be better used on homes and fixing abandoned buildings in my community.”

From Michigan’s peace train

Haider Alsaedy, 37, was wrapped in an Iraqi flag. He came to the demonstration from Kalamazoo, Mich., where he works in a factory that makes hospital beds. Originally from Basra, in southern Iraq, he has been living in the U.S. for the past six years. He is active with a nonprofit group, Iraqi Health Now, that sends medicines to Iraq.

Alsaedy said his family and friends in Iraq all want the U.S. military out. “People feel like it’s not their country anymore,” he said. “They want peace and security.” Most Iraqis are concerned about the lack of drinkable water, electricity and medicines, he added.

“I’m not really into politics but it’s hard not to take a stand when your country is devastated,” said Alsaedy.

On Michigan’s “peace train,” Dearborn ninth-grader Sarah Keeler said she was there “because I’ve always been against war,” and “I thought I’d try something new.”

“I think there are better ways to solve problems than just killing people,” she added. “I think it’s really stupid.” She said she was sure her school could better use the money now being spent on the war.

It took courage and physical effort for Heather Mary Quaine, 37, a freelance video editor, to ride the train from Detroit to Chicago. She is recovering from ovarian cancer, and although she has yet to overcome the effects of recent chemotherapy treatments, she said she had to make the trip because “it may sound cliché, but every day, soldiers are dying.

“I may not be feeling well, I may have aches and pains but everybody has to do their part,” Quaine said. “If you’re not doing something every day to stop this war — like writing or calling your congressperson — then shame on you. Things have gotten that bad. Every person has to step up.”

Susan Webb contributed to this story.