Activists Rush to Rally Again In Last-Ditch Antiwar Effort
By Manny Fernandez
Thursday 13 March 2003
Antiwar activists are gearing up for a march on Washington on Saturday, the latest for a global peace movement that has mobilized with increasing frequency as the nation prepares for a war with Iraq.
In Burke, psychologist Suzanne Doherty, 56, has worked to assemble a squad of grandmothers to join her on Saturday. "This is not exclusively a young person's movement," said Doherty, founder of the Northern Virginia chapter of Grandmothers for Peace.
In Philadelphia, Betsy Payet has taken an avalanche of calls from protesters looking for seats on 20 charter buses. "The people in this so-called democracy are being ignored," she said.
And in Princeton, N.J., the Rev. Robert Moore has helped fill a five-bus caravan of homemakers, students and retirees. "They realize that this is our last best chance to try to avert a war," said Moore, 52, pastor of two United Church of Christ congregations.
The demonstration is part of a loose-knit local, national and global campaign to oppose the use of military force to disarm Iraq. The march and rally are part of an effort that will stage simultaneous rallies in San Francisco and Los Angeles as well as in other nations.
The U.S. protests have been organized by International ANSWER, the coalition that on Jan. 18 assembled the largest antiwar rally in Washington since the Vietnam War. Organizers said it was too early to tell whether they would match the size of that crowd, which police estimated at 100,000 but activists said was more.
They said they had just a few weeks to organize, not the three months that preceded the January protest. The number of organizing centers around the country is about 70 fewer this time, and some activists said they are bringing fewer vehicles. D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey doesn't doubt the crowd will be large, pointing out that last time organizers asked for a permit for 20,000 -- as they have for Saturday.
Urgency is what ANSWER activists hope will bring out the crowd, as the drama in the U.N. Security Council plays out.
"We call this an emergency convergence because of the sense that this may be the last chance to show a big outpouring of antiwar sentiment before the initiation of all-out war by the Bush administration," said ANSWER organizer Brian Becker, 50.
The rally is set to begin at noon at the Washington Monument, followed by a march to the White House and the Department of Justice. Organizers said speakers will include Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and Jesse L. Jackson as well as religious and labor leaders. Musical performers will include country singer Willie Nelson and hip-hop artist Mos Def.
The ANSWER coalition has drawn the ire of critics, some of whom contend it is a front group for the socialist Workers World Party, of which Becker and others in ANSWER are members. Kristinn Taylor, 40, co-leader of the D.C. chapter of the conservative group Free Republic, which plans a counter-demonstration Saturday, described ANSWER as pro-Saddam and anti-American. "There's strong overtones of anti-Semitism at their rallies, and the organizers themselves support violent communist revolution," Taylor said.
Becker said such comments are without merit and said ANSWER is not a political supporter of the Iraqi government. "Antiwar activists care about stopping this war. There is no political or ideological litmus test," he said.
Ramsey said he expected the protest to be peaceful but plans to deploy teams of officers trained in responding to protests. The police also will activate about two dozen permanent and temporary surveillance cameras along the route. The U.S. Park Police will augment its force with additional mounted officers.
The antiwar movement in the United States has gained momentum following worldwide peace demonstrations last month. Between 6 million and 12 million protesters rallied in about 75 countries Feb. 15 against war. ANSWER had called a protest for March 1, anticipating that the war might be underway. But the group changed the date after the U.S. stance on disarming Iraq was challenged in the Security Council.
Washington area activists have increased the frequency of small and large protests and boosted their ranks with more students. In recent days, protesters have held antiwar poetry readings, descended on the White House dressed in pink and conducted student walkouts at colleges and high schools. Yesterday, about 35 activists rallied outside the 15th Street NW offices of The Washington Post to protest what they called "dramatically hawkish" editorials.
Those who plan to attend Saturday and who consider themselves part of the movement include gray-haired former hippies, high school honor students and suburban mothers. Those new to protesting have joined activists from other causes, such as the anti-globalization movement, in an online and on-the-street community, particularly in the Washington area, where antiwar protests are frequent. Using Web sites and e-mail, which serve as borderless petition-gatherers, fundraisers and bulletin boards, activists are linked as never before.
The Suburban Activist Calendar, a listing of actions distributed through one of Washington's protester e-mail groups, lists 35 vigils, meetings and marches this month alone. The list includes information on such groups as Kensington Neighbors Opposed to War (KNOW), which formed after a January potluck dinner. "I think that war is never the answer, but this particular war I think is completely unjustified," said KNOW member Molly Jackman, 42, a mother of three and co-president of a Silver Spring PTA.
As war appears to draw closer, protesters have begun discussing what to do if hostilities break out, planning to rally at Lafayette Square, stage student walkouts at high schools and tie up morning rush hour with a bike rally from Dupont Circle. Many others have pledged to commit nonviolent civil disobedience if the United States attacks. "If in fact it does come to war," said Gordon Clark, 42, of Silver Spring, national coordinator of the Iraq Pledge of Resistance, "we will see a level of protest and social unrest that we have not seen in this country since Vietnam."
Protesters from other coalitions have said they would risk arrest Monday, with sit-ins at congressional offices on Capitol Hill.
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