NEW YORK – Hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets March 22 in a spirited demonstration against the war on Iraq. The huge protest, held just two days after the start of the war, was proof positive that the peace movement – “the other world superpower” – is strong and growing here, one of the sites of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

The linking of Sept. 11 to Iraq as a rationale for the war was condemned by many of the labor, religious and community leaders who spoke at a pre-march press conference and led the demonstration.

Colleen Kelly, a leader of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, who lost her brother in the World Trade Center said, “there has never been any concrete evidence that the two were linked…but the Bush administration has emotionally linked them, using the valid feelings people have about September 11 in an unjust way.”

Kelly continued, “We don’t want what happened here on September 11 to happen anywhere else.”

The press conference was kicked off by Leslie Cagan, a co-chair of United for Peace and Justice, the coalition that organized the demonstration. “We are horrified and outraged that the Bush administration has launched such a massive attack against Iraq. New Yorkers add our voice to the global movement for peace. The bombing must stop,” she said.

Wilfredo Larancuent, an international vice president of UNITE and head of its campaign to organize the Cintas industrial laundries, said “our young people give their blood while corporate America gets Iraq’s oil. This is not a war for the protection of the American people, Iraq wasn’t a danger to us.” Larancuent pointed to the contradiction of growing unemployment, deep budget cuts and tax breaks for the rich, while the federal government spends billions on war.

Luis Garden Acosta, president of El Puente, a Brooklyn community organization, said “our young people say ‘war is wack.’ The Pope says this war is illegal, unjust and immoral.”

Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, spoke about the unprecedented speed with which the religious community has come out against the war, and emphasized supporting the troops by not supporting the war. “The best way to support our young men and women in the armed services is to bring them home,” he said. Many other religious leaders marched, including from Jewish and Muslim congregations.

A rainbow coalition of marchers, of all ages and a wide range of political views, stiffened Manhattan’s spine – Broadway – from midtown to Washington Square Park, more than 40 blocks away. “New York says no to war” and other chants echoed for more than four hours in the narrow canyon of tall buildings at the end of the march. “Raging Grannies” marched along with college students and babies in strollers; and individuals and small groups of friends and co-workers intermingled with large, well-organized contingents.

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) said “there has been no evidence presented to Congress that Iraq is connected to 9/11. We support the troops but we don’t support the president.” Rangel was flanked by Rep. Major Owens (D-N.Y.), and many other state and city elected officials.

Joining them at the head of the march were leaders of New York’s labor movement, including Roger Toussaint, president of the Transport Workers Union Local 100; Santos Crespo, vice president of DC 37, American Federation of State, County, Municipal Employees; Bob Masters, political action director of the Communications Workers of America District 1 and a co-chair of the Working Families Party; and Gerald Hudson, an executive vice president of Local 1199 SEIU.

Rita Haley, President of NY NOW, Eli Pariser from, and Monica Tarazi, NY Director of the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee were also part of the lead contingent.

Sam Webb, national chairman of the Communist Party who marched with his organization’s contingent, said “the demonstration’s demands – ‘stop the war now, support the troops by bringing them home, and money for human needs, not war,’ – can unite the majority of the country against the White House policies.”

These themes, as well as anger at the Bush administration, were expressed in the huge variety of signs and banners and in interviews with participants.

Lee Gough, representing Military Families Speak Out, described the mistreatment of veterans by the Bush administration, which is proposing big cuts in programs serving vets, “30 percent of whom are homeless. Our illegitimate President, elected representatives and the media have failed us.”

“For the Bush administration to claim ‘devotion to country’ is a very grim misuse of patriotism. I support the soldiers, not the president – he stole the election,” said Eva Woodbrey Leachman, a member of UAW Local 600.

“It is important for everyone to voice their opposition … money is being taken from the social fabric, education, healthcare. Tuition is being raised. And people are dying. This is needless. Bush’s actions are endangering Americans … If U.S. policy is wrong it is our duty to change it,” said Jack Arnow, from the City University of New York’s Professional Staff Congress.

Tony Pecinovsky contributed to this article. The author can be reached at

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