WASHINGTON – Speakers at peace rallies in the nation’s capital, April 20, touched off cheers as they denounced George W. Bush for using the Sept. 11 terrorist attack as a smokescreen for “war” against poor and working people at home and abroad.

Michael Letwin, a founder of New York City Labor Against the War and president of United Auto Workers/Legal Aid Attorneys Local 2325, told the “United We March” throng at the Sylvan Theater that people ask him why labor should speak out against the war. “When blowback from a corrupt foreign policy leads to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack and 1,000 union members die, then war is a labor issue,” he said, referring to the union workers who perished in the World Trade Center collapse. “When Bush sends workers and people of color to kill and be killed in countries like Afghanistan, that is a labor issue.”

Letwin called on the labor movement to speak out for peace and join in the call for the Israeli government to “end the war on the Palestinian people, and end U.S. support for the war on Palestine.”

Citing the Port and Maritime Security Act, which would open the door for requiring three million transport workers to carry identity cards, Clarence Thomas, Secretary-Treasurer of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10, blasted Attorney General John Ashcroft for using the Sept. 11 tragedy “as an excuse to take away union rights and civil liberties. … They don’t want us to have the right to organize and strike.”

Phoebe Jones, a spokesperson for the Every Mother is a Working Mother Network, blasted the Bush administration for punitive measures against poor single mothers.

President Bush and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson seek to attach these measures to the reauthorization of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).

Welfare reform, she said, “puts forward that caring for your own children has no value … We demand that the value of caring work be reflected in welfare benefits, and end to time limits, other punitive measures and discrimination.”

Jones also criticized Bush’s budget, saying, “While $80 billion would alleviate the worst poverty and suffering, $940 billion a year is spent on military budgets worldwide. The brutality of those priorities that the U.S. inflicts on the world is also inflicted on us here.”

Amy Goodman, moderator of the Paficia Radio “Democracy Now!” program, served as M.C. of the rally, She read a message from Detroit Bishop Thomas Gumbleton denouncing “structures of violence that take from the poor and give to the rich. Our nuclear arsensal has only one purpose: to protect our privileged position in the world.”

Martin Luther King III, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said that if his father were alive today he would be in the forefront of the peace and justice movement.

“We all want to see terrorism stopped,” he said. “If you treat people with dignity and respect, you don’t have to worry about terrorism. We’re going to fight a violent system with non-violence. As my father said, ‘If you don’t learn non-violence, we will face non-existence.’”

Civil liberties attorney Michael Ratner denounced the Bush administration for holding hundreds of prisoners of war at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo, Cuba.

He called it “America’s Devil’s Island penal colony” and charged that the detainees are subject to torture. “There is no regard for treaties or international law by the world’s sole superpower.”

He hailed the courage of the masses of poor people in Venezuela in repelling the Bush-supported coup d’etat and restoring their elected president Hugo Chavez to power.

The crowd fell silent when members of a group called “Peaceful Tomorrows,” family members of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, were introduced.

Amber Amundson, her two young children beside her, spoke of her grief at the death of her husband, Army Specialist Craig Scott Amundson, in the attack on the Pentagon. She told the crowd her husband had a “Visualize World Peace” bumper sticker on the car he drove to the Pentagon each day.

She called for ending the “cycle of violence” and resolving conflict through peaceful means. “Our grief is not a cry for war,” she concluded, as the crowd erupted in cheers and applause.

At the final rally near the Capitol, the Rev. Lucius Walker, founder of Pastors for Peace, surveyed the enormous crowd and hailed it as proof of a new level of unity in the struggle against the reactionary, ultra-right Bush administration.

Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.), recalled the 2000 presidential election when “the Republicans stole from America our most precious right of all – the right of free and fair elections.” She blasted Bush for “spending $1 to $4 billion a month on the war in Afghanistan while slashing funds for human needs at home.”

Bush, she added, rammed through the Ashcroft Patriot Act “a law that denies our sacred freedoms cherished under the Constitution. We must dare to remember all of this and that is why we are here. To wage peace instead of war, we stand together as one. Because through our efforts, I believe we can again make America a force for good in the world.”

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com