Up in Arms on Plans for War
Thousands of protesters opposed to a war in Iraq converged on the Federal Building in Westwood on Sunday as part of a coordinated national effort that stretched from New York City’s Central Park to San Francisco’s Union Square and spots in at least a dozen other cities.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lt. Pat Jordan estimated the crowd at about 3,000, but a California Highway Patrol officer overseeing the peaceful rally and march put the number at “well above” the group’s permit--for 3,500.
The rallies, pulled together by an umbrella group called the Not in Our Name project, were timed to coincide with the eve of the one-year anniversary of the start of bombing in Afghanistan
Polls have generally shown support for the Bush administration’s actions since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and for a war on Iraq with allied and United Nations support.
Central Park’s event, where actor Martin Sheen spoke, drew thousands; San Francisco’s also drew thousands; and a Chicago demonstration attracted more than 1,000. On Saturday, a companion rally in Portland, Ore., drew an estimated 5,000.
Gathering on the broad lawn of the Federal Building and stretching along Wilshire Boulevard, protesters toted signs that included “Don’t Invade Iraq” and “No, It’s Not Iraq. It’s the Economy. We’re not Stupid.” Protesters said they hoped to send a strong message to Congress and fellow Americans that opposition to a war is alive, and that expressing it is a form of patriotism.
The crowd was packed with the regulars of progressive rallies: tattooed students pounding drums, Green Party activists promoting their candidates and the more radical Revolutionary Communist Progressive Labor Party distributing newspapers.
But the rally also drew first-time demonstrators who said that they were deeply concerned about the implications of a war and felt that their voice has not been heard. President Bush is expected to make his case for a war on Iraq, which he says has developed weapons of mass destruction, in a televised speech tonight.
In his weekend radio address, Bush urged Congress to give him authority to move swiftly against Saddam Hussein. Later, while stumping in Manchester, N.H., for Senate candidate John Sununu, Bush didn’t mention the 50 anti-war demonstrators outside or the gatherings around the country. But he reiterated his stance that the United States must disarm Iraq to protect American lives.
“This has been long overdue, for people to come together and voice their opinion,” said Michael Collins, 35, a health insurance administrator from Westwood who attended the rally with his daughters, Chris, 9, and Cami, 6. “If we go into Iraq, it’s going to give other countries a reason to side against us.... Why not stand up now and say something?”
Not in Our Name was born out of a meeting in March in New York. Since then, nearly 20,000 artists, intellectuals and musicians have signed a “statement of conscience” against the Bush administration’s resolve to wage war on Iraq, “a country which has no connection to the horror of Sept. 11.” The statement also decries the Patriot Act, which gave the government greater latitude to curtail civil liberties in the name of the war on terror.
The lengthy list of signatories on the statement, which was published in full-page advertisements in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, include actor Edward Asner; writers Barbara Kingsolver, Eve Ensler, Tony Kushner and Alice Walker; musician Steve Earle; performance artist Laurie Anderson; and language theorist Noam Chomsky.
At the events across the country Sunday, demonstrators recited a “Pledge of Resistance” against war, roundups of immigrants and infringements of civil liberties.
Collins, who is not affiliated with any activist organization, saw the ad Friday, visited the group’s Web site and learned of the rally. He then photocopied 200 copies of the event announcement and distributed them to strangers in Westwood.
“I’m really terrified that democracy is going to suffer,” he said as he cradled his youngest daughter. “I’m doing it for the kids.”
Echoed Rae Wilken, 76, of Canoga Park: “When you have grandchildren you realize how precious life really is, and it becomes unimaginable that we would throw bombs at people.”
Sabrina Judge, who attended the rally with her husband and parents, said that in the mix of “fringe” fliers, she was handed a list of every member of Congress, along with their phone numbers and e-mail addresses.
“This is something I can go home and use,” she said.
A recent Washington Post-ABC poll showed that three in five Americans favored using force to get rid of Hussein. But 47% opposed such a move without the support of U.S. allies (46% approved it), and 52% of those polled said they feared Bush would move too quickly to challenge Hussein. Other polls have reflected greater dissent.
Many Democratic members of Congress have said that calls, letters and e-mails from constituents have overwhelmingly opposed a war. For example, an aide for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has said that the senator has received about 15,000 phone calls and 3,500 letters on the Iraq issue, with the overwhelming majority against a unilateral, preemptive U.S. strike.
Organizers drew on a network of labor, religious, student and other activist organizations. Among the speakers was Ron Kovic, the wheelchair-bound Vietnam veteran who wrote the book “Born on the Fourth of July” and has become an outspoken peace activist.
“We are sick and tired of being told we’re unpatriotic,” Kovic said to cheers, seated on a stage beneath an inflated globe wrapped in a yellow “Not In Our Name” banner that resembled crime-scene tape. “Let it sink in, President Bush: We care so much about this country that we know democracy is being threatened and we are not going to let it happen.”
Steve Boise, 43, wore a hard hat emblazoned with the U.S. flag and the name of his union local to let people know that “blue-collar America is talking about this at work.”
Boise, a pipe fitter at the Shell Oil refinery in Wilmington, said he and his co-workers have spent hours discussing a potential war in Iraq and have decided “it’s all about controlling oil in the Caspian Sea.... This just doesn’t make any sense to us.”
The rally was his first, but Boise said he attended because “it feels like our views aren’t being expressed.... I don’t understand the doublespeak,” he said. “Patriotic now means, ‘Sit down and shut up.’ ”
Times wire services contributed to this report.