PHILADELPHIA – Over 300 people packed the hospital and health care workers District 1199C union hall here on April 17 to hear public officials, trade unionists, peace activists and others blast the Bush war policies and call for electing a new president in 2004.

After a warm greeting from 1199C President Henry Nicholas, Bill Lucy, national secretary-treasurer of AFSCME and chair of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, gave the keynote address.

Lucy criticized the Bush administration for its cynicism in its prosecution of its “war against terrorism” campaign, noting that “terrorism didn’t start with 9/11.” He said that Osama Bin Laden was a U.S. ally in the Cold War against the Soviet Union, and that Saddam Hussein was a U.S. ally against Iran. Lucy said the Bush administration’s war policy, as well as its domestic policy, is characterized by lies.

Lucy was joined on the speakers platform by Rep. Joe Hoeffel (D-Pa.), Philadelphia AFL-CIO Council President Pat Eiding, Philadelphia NAACP President J. Whyatt Mondesire, State Rep. Babette Josephs, former City Council member Angel Ortiz, and Diane Mohney of the Coalition of Labor Union Women.

Rep. Hoeffel’s presence had special significance because he is challenging longtime incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) in an attempt to wrest a seat from the Republican camp. In the fall of 2002, Hoeffel was the only Philadelphia-area congressman to vote for the Bush war resolution, and how he would be received at the rally was anyone’s guess. He told the crowd that he had spoken against the administration’s war policy 20 times on the floor of the House and that he was committed to an international approach to solving the crisis in Iraq. His willingness to attend the rally and engage in the dialogue met with a positive response from the audience.

AFL-CIO President Pat Eiding told the meeting that he was proud of the Philadelphia labor council’s leading role in passing an early resolution against the war in January 2003. “We need to get them [the troops] home,” he said. Citing the city’s huge job losses and the terrible state of labor laws and health care in the country, Eiding pledged the council’s “proactive” participation in the campaign to remove the current administration from the White House in 2004.

Angel Ortiz blasted Corporate America’s greed, and not just for oil. He hailed the stopping of Wal-Mart in Port Richmond, and called for Bush’s ouster.

CLUW’s Diane Mohney said, “Yes to regime change in Washington in 2004,” and announced the start of a petition campaign revolving around a “Peace and Justice Voter Pledge 2004.” The NAACP’s Mondesire energized the crowd when he invited everyone to help “shut the city down” on July 15, the day President Bush is scheduled to attend the national NAACP convention here.

Several speakers from the floor added powerful words to the discussion. Fran Gabow, the last speaker of the day, spoke for the Communist Party USA and brought the audience to its feet, saying, “I have lived through a century of war. We must make sure the 21st century is the century of peace.”

The meeting was organized by Human Rights Activists for Peace, associated with Philadelphia’s Jobs with Justice, and was co-sponsored by a wide range of organizations, including the Philadelphia AFL-CIO, the Metropolitan Christian Council of Philadelphia, the Black Radical Congress, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Philadelphia NOW, the Communist Party, and the Philadelphia chapter of CLUW. Minister Rodney Muhammad of the Nation of Islam gave the invocation and closing remarks.

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