Determined to Stop the War

Revolutionary Worker #1174, November 10, 2002, posted at

In October 26 in the U.S., a great outpouring against the U.S. threat of war on Iraq took the streets. Well over 100,000 in Washington, DC and 80,000 in San Francisco marched to express their opposition to this war. The following report on the mood of the people in Washington and San Francisco--and what brought them into the streets--was filed by RW correspondent Bill Swain and our correspondent in San Francisco.

As I rode the bus to Washington, DC from Cleveland, headed for the march called for October 26, I thought of what it had meant for tens of thousands of people on October 6 to say the Pledge of Resistance, which begins:

"We believe that as people living in the United States
it is our responsibility
to resist the injustices
done by our government, in our names
Not in our name..."

Between conversations and naps on the long ride, I thought to myself that with all the horror the U.S. government is planning to bring down on Iraq, with all the hypocrisy about the U.S. "liberating" the people of Iraq with the "regime change," with all the lies spewing out from the White House, tens of thousands of people are being jolted into political life--especially in opposition to the war on Iraq.

And as I looked out at the dark night, through the mountains of western Pennsylvania, I recalled what Bob Avakian wrote on 12-12-01 that "We must bring forward the vision of a movement against the war acts and repression of `our own' U.S. government that is so powerful that it cannot be hidden from the masses of people all over the world--including in the countries and areas that are targets of U.S. imperialist aggression and are, justifiably, `hotbeds' of hatred `against America'."

From the time we got off the bus a few hours before the rally to when we got on the bus to go home, all kinds of people were anxious to talk about why they came and why they think it is urgent to build a strong movement against the war on Iraq.

We arrived in D.C. early in the morning, and I ran into some of the Yellow Springs high school students at a coffee shop. A young woman in high school told me, "At first I was not going to go because it seemed like a hassle. Then a lot of other people were going and I mainly started thinking I should go too. I decided I wanted to be part of the revolution or whatever. I heard someone on the radio say Bush is a modern day Hitler, trying to take over the whole world." When she said this, a classmate jumped in with, "The U.S. is like that. The U.S. takes away what people in other countries have been doing their whole life. Like in Africa. We [the U.S. government] say we respect people but we don't really respect people's cultures at all.... The U.S. wants all the power. All America wants is just to get stronger and stronger and more and more powerful."

Another student said, "I think people should get together because they do have a voice. We're not the only ones protesting this, people in Berlin and other places around the world. Here a lot of people don't want this war. It feels good to be out there doing something instead of being home watching people protesting on television. It's good to be out there saying `I'm totally against this.' I feel active, with so many people."

Then one of the young women smiled. "I am surprised about some of the people who came on our bus," she said. "There's this boy in our school and the day of 9/11 he said, `We're going to go and blow those turban heads away.' Or something like that. And he came on this trip, he's here. (Ha, ha.) Maybe we're rubbing off on him.

" `We have nuclear weapons to bomb on other countries.' What is that?" she said, mocking government spokesmen. " `We used them before but that doesn't matter. You might use them against us so we are going to declare war on you even though we've done everything we're saying you might possibly do.' It's so hypocritical! Oh, I can't stand it."

As we walked to the rally sight, people were pouring in from all directions. No matter where you looked, hundreds of people turned to thousands.

I walked up to a group of Iranians who were passing out stickers that said, "Iranian Americans Against the War." One of the men told me: "The U.S. is making the Iraqi people suffer more than what they did over the last 12 years. We don't worry about Saddam but we worry about the Iraqi people. They never hate Americans and it's not our responsibility to police the world. It's the imperialists who have weapons of mass destruction. And who is Bush to order everybody else [other countries and people here in the U.S.], to say `we want war'? And after the U.S. goes to Iraq, then maybe the second country will be Iran, and we have to do everything to end this war by the U.S. everywhere in the world."

Tens of thousands of people who never go to demonstrations felt they had to be there--that it was important for people to manifest their numbers right in the nation's capital--to put their opposition together with all these other people and right in the face of the White House. Many people feel very betrayed by the Congressional Democrats who are supporting the war effort, and there is widespread bitterness over the last Presidential elections--a sense that Bush was not legitimately elected. A lot of people were upset by the death of Senator Paul Wellstone. And it was not uncommon to hear people openly speculating that Wellstone might have been killed--a clear indicator that many people think the power structure would stop at nothing to achieve their aims. Throughout the crowd, thousands of folks were wearing the stickers passed out by Refuse & Resist!--"Stop the war; No police state; another world is possible."

I walked up to an older couple who came from Philadelphia. The man said, "The last time was in 1968 when I marched against the Vietnam War. We went to the Justice Department then. This is the first time I felt needed again." The woman said, "During the Vietnam War, it took a long time to build the movement. This time we can't afford that because now we have to stop the war before it starts. You have to do something. We've been so upset by everything that's going on and we talk about it among ourselves and when the march came on, I said we got to go, we can't just talk. You can sit in your living room and talk yourself to death and not do anything. You got to do something. When I first came here I was worried there wouldn't be many people, but now I see there must be 80 or 100 thousand people."

A Black youth from Paterson, New Jersey told me, "I don't like being controlled by a capitalistic government. I think it is crooked the way they are doing things. I think the war is bullshit. Fuck this war. It's good there are so many people here. I feel really strong because of that. How I came was that a group of us from New Jersey were hanging out and then said to each other that the way things are going with this government is wrong. I've seen here Puerto Rican, Black, white, Korean--it's beautiful. Some people say our voice doesn't count but that's when we defeat ourselves. When we get together a single voice turns into a big one."

"I had an obligation to come here," an 18-year-old Iraqi man said in an intense tone. "I am a survivor of the Gulf War in Baghdad. So it is very personal to me. I remember the Gulf War very vividly. They destroyed hospitals, water treatment plants, no food, no aspirin or pain killers. The hospital beds are very few and the ones available are in horrible shape. It's worse than anything imaginable. That's all I can say. There is nothing else to bomb now in Iraq. They are going to kill people, that's what it comes down to."

I ran into someone passing out copies of the Not In Our Name Statement of Conscience. She told me that a lot of people in the crowd knew about the statement--people were saying, "Oh, yes, I have that up on my refrigerator." And I thought about the developments since that statement appeared in the New York Times in mid September and how the ranks of protest had swelled from October 6 in only a few weeks.

I joined the march for a while, and was moved by the intensity of the chants like "The war on Iraq, Not in Our Name!!!" A poster near me said, "Stop the War on the People of the World", another said, "We will not be silent. We will not allow this war against Iraq to go on." Then I walked out of the march to talk to some more people.

I saw two middle-aged Black women walking along Constitution Avenue. I asked them why they came out. One said, "Too much blood has been shed. This war is about control and I think oil has a lot to do with why the U.S. wants control in Iraq. We American people do not want to die for oil. You're talking hundreds of thousands of people doing the dying."

As I sat on the curb waiting for our bus to come, a friend of mine from the Not In Our Name project introduced me to a young woman activist from Cleveland. I asked her what she thought about the day. She liked the diversity of people, and that she felt empowered by people marching and chanting together. Her favorite chant was "They want us silent, they want us tame, this war on the world is not in our name!!" She said it really captured for her the direction we all need to go to stop the war against Iraq and other countries.

As I got back on the bus, I thought about all the different people I talked with, and one point everyone made was that we the people have to act against what the U.S. government is doing. And in all the conversations I had, what came through is that there are times when the necessity for the people themselves to take history into their hands poses itself urgently, and we are indeed living in such times.


San Francisco, October 26--When I arrived at the MacArthur BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station in Oakland for the ride to San Francisco on Saturday morning, October 26, I could tell something very unusual was going on. The BART station, normally pretty empty on a weekend morning, was packed. I got into the line of about 50 people to buy my BART ticket and noticed that everyone was either carrying signs or wearing buttons or bumper stickers against the pending war in Iraq.

By the end of the day it was clear that this was the largest protest in San Francisco in at least 20 years. The marchers, who completely filled Market Street, were still spilling into Civic Center Plaza, the site of the rally, hours after the first protesters had arrived.

People had come from all over the Western states. I was attracted to a large banner that said "Arizona 4 Peace" Standing in front of the banner were Papa Bush and "W." Pappy Bush was wearing a bloody smock and carrying a sign that said "Got Oil?" W. was wrapped in the American flag and wearing huge cowboy hat. One of the guys holding the banner told me that they had come all they way from Tucson for the demonstration. When I asked him what was happening in Tucson he said, "There are people coming out to oppose this war that have never marched for anything before in their lives, who have never been politically active. The excesses of this administration are wearing on people's complacency."

Three high school students from Santa Monica High were sitting on the curb and watching people arrive at the protest. One of the students told me why they were there: "I don't believe Bush was really elected, so obviously, if he wasn't really elected he has no right to send us to war. So many people are gathering and taking the time to get off their lazy butts to come here and protest the war. I don't think we can ignore that this many people cared this much. We came on an eight-hour bus ride from LA. And there were hundreds of people coming, too. It obviously matters a lot and if this is ignored then I don't even know if I have faith in our country."

Another RW reporter spoke with Gary, a Vietnam veteran from Mammoth Lake, a small, rural town in eastern California. "I feel so strongly about this war, it's the first time I've ever protested. I enlisted during the Vietnam War, and I've since learned what a foolish thing that was for us to get involved with. So now I look a lot more closely at the international policy behind things. And I think it's a really foolish direction this country is going under Bush.

"The trap I see a lot of Americans falling in is the trap I fell in," Gary said. "I've learned that it's important to question the government, especially when you're talking about war. A lot of people are going to lose their lives, and you should know what you're fighting for. If you look back on the tricks pulled in Vietnam, from the Gulf of Tonkin to the United States stopping democratic elections in Vietnam because they were concerned that the Communists would have won those elections--when you hear `freedom and democracy' spouted by world leaders, that's not what they're looking for. They want a government sympathetic to the interests of corporate America, and that's what I see it as."

There were many unusual and creative contingents on the march. There was a contingent of "Unreasonable women" all dressed in hot pink marching together. I spoke with anti-war author Susan Griffin who was with the contingent and explained their philosophy to me. "We refuse to compromise for the earth...we got the name from Diane Wilson who has been fighting the pollution on the Gulf of Mexico...she said reasonable women are just the circumstances, unreasonable women change them."

The contingent with the Not In Our Name Project was one of the most lively. It featured a large 15- foot-diameter globe and 10 earth flags on 20-foot bamboo poles. When the contingent held a "die- in," hundreds of people lay in the middle of Market Street to symbolize the people who will die as a result of the U.S.'s war without end. Dozens of Mexican immigrants standing on the sidewalk joined the "die-in" when the youth dropped to the street. After a minute the protesters stood up shouting and chanting, "Rise up with the people of Iraq, rise up with the people of the world!"

Another contingent of Filipino students and activists was also pretty wild. Many wore red T-shirts with the Maoist slogan "Serve the People." I spoke with Mario of Bayan about why Filipinos were out in force. "We're out here today to send a message that the Filipino community is totally opposed to this war on Iraq and it's also totally opposed to Bush's war against the people of the world. Bush is sending this week another 10,000 troops to train its guns on the New People's Army in the Philippines and the progressive liberation movements there. They're doing this because Bush wants to reestablish U.S. military bases."

Under the banner, "Anthropologists Against the War," a professor from Saint Mary's College told me, "As an anthropologist we're looking at social situations and that's what this is all about. Inequality. The control of the means of production. And that's why we're out here."

Many people were carrying banners with pictures of the globe. A contingent from the Marin Peace and Justice Center carried a half dozen large earth flags and had large helium earth balloons. A man with the contingent spoke to the significance of the earth flag. "It's really important that we stop thinking in terms of national borders, and even of patriotism... If you know that there are people in these places like us, you'll think twice about bombing other people. So holding up the earth flag is really holding up internationalism."

I spoke with two young women from Santa Rosa who were wearing blue triangles--distributed by the Blue Triangle Network. One said, "This is symbolizing people who are missing in the United States. Muslims, Arabs and such who are missing over here, and their families can't find them."

A man carrying a homemade sign that said "West Point Graduate for Peace" was hesitant at first to talk because I write for the RW , but he did share his views on the war. "I believe this war is wrong and immoral. It's just America continuing to act out its thirst for empire," he said. "In the Army they give you power and status. As an officer people are saluting you. They give you money. But its all superficial."

As I was leaving, I thought about the children dying as a result of UN sanctions in Iraq, of the bombs that killed untold numbers of people in Afghanistan, of the Arabs and Muslims being held in U.S. prisons without any kind of due process. I was hopeful that the news of these massive demonstrations would be heard around the world and that the many victims of U.S. imperialism and those struggling against it would draw strength that right here in the "belly of the beast" people were standing to oppose the arrogant U.S. rulers.

But I also felt that we can't be satisfied. That it will take much more to really stop the U.S. rulers from going into Iraq.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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