Photograph by Andre Munro
An estimated 100,000 peace activists rallied nationwide on Oct. 27 to demand an end to the Iraq War. Not only did protesters, like these in Chicago, call for an end to the "immoral and disastrous" war in Iraq, they demanded that any plans to pre-emptively invade Iran be abandoned.
A busload of card-carrying peace activists, jacked up on caffeine and shared contempt for the Bush war machine and a Democratic Congress that needs to dial 1-800-GROW-A-SPINE, rolled out of Bloomington early Oct. 27 to join several thousands more in Chicago for one of 11 regional anti-war demonstrations that took place that day.
Bloomington Peace Action Coalition (BPAC) organizers Christine Glaser and Timothy Baer led that group to the Windy City. And several other area groups and individuals met them there.
Other cities that participated included Boston, Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, Orlando and Seattle.
United for Peace and Justice, “a coalition of more than 1,400 local and national groups throughout the U.S. who have joined to protest the immoral and disastrous Iraq War,” according to its Web site, initiated the coast-to-coast protests.
The organization estimates that at least 100,000 folks took to the streets to voice opposition to what they say has been the illegal occupation of Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion of that sovereign nation in 2003.
Protesters from all over the Midwest assembled in Chicago’s Union Park for a rally early in the day, where elected officials, union leaders and activists delivered powerful speeches and led the boisterous crowd in chant, song and even rap.
Vendors and informational tables representing various social justice and political entities were on full, beautiful, kooky display, with the Ron Paul for President headquarters a hop, skip and a jump from where the Socialist Party was parked, and Code Pink not far from various labor representatives, highlighting once again just how elastic the anti-war Big Tent really is.
The crowd, estimated by police at around 5,000 but by organizers at 30,000 strong, then made the hour-long march from the West Loop to the Federal Plaza, where more speakers gave participants the red meat they came for.
With Lake Michigan wind gusts biting at their faces, some speakers countered the preemptive-attack-on-Iran spin that has been hurling in large quantities out of the mouths of Washington’s dutiful foot soldiers lately.
Jan Schakowsky, Illinois’s Ninth District Democratic congresswoman, spoke energetically about the dangers of ignoring the spooky rhetoric.
“Imagine,” she said, “now they’re suggesting that the way we get out of Iraq is to attack Iran! We are here to say, ‘No war in Iraq and no war in Iran.’”
The congresswoman acknowledged that there are many winners in war, including “Cheney’s Halliburton, Blackwater and big oil companies just salivating for all that oil.”
But she argued, “The people are saying, ‘Enough is enough.’ This war is over as far as they’re concerned.”
Seventh District Illinois Democratic Congressman Danny Davis also spoke, with the aplomb of a true veteran of progressive politics, assuring the crowd that the Seventh District “will not be voting for any more money for any more war.”
He added, “We have to keep the heat on. We cannot give them (the Bush administration) one moment of solace, one moment of peace. We have to say, ‘No more, bring the troops home.’”
Outspoken activist and Iraqi consultant for the Friends Service Committee Raed Jarrar, who is not known for mawkish, tip-toeing around the subject in speeches, took the chill right out of the air with a fiery, fist-waving address.
“The only way to end the violence in Iraq is to bring all the troops home now,” he declared. “Now the administration is telling us they have to keep troops in Iraq to protect Iraqis from each other, Iraq Sunnis from Iraq Shi’ites.
“My father is a Sunni and my mother is a Shi’ite. I don’t need anyone to come from 10,000 miles away to protect me from my cousins. I don’t need someone to occupy my country to protect me from my neighbors”
Jarrar took further aim at the tired, recycled notion that to pull out of Iraq now amid so much instability would be apocalyptic, a mantra that not only Bush and his neocon cronies espouse, but many 2008 Democratic presidential hopefuls, do as well.
“When Iraqis march now in the streets, the millions of them, they demand, ‘No to the occupation!’” he said. “They don’t say, ‘Stay here and protect us from each other.’ They don’t say, ‘Please stay here and rebuild our country.’ They say, ‘Get the hell out of our country so that we can rebuild it!’”
Michael McPherson, executive director of Veterans for Peace, cautioned the diverse crowd about the dangers of permitting their internal differences to muck up their bigger cause, which is to end the occupation in Iraq and to thwart future empire-spreading efforts on whichever administration’s watch they occur.
“I believe there’s one thing in particular we must pay attention to as we move closer to the 2008 election, that has nothing to do with Democrats or Republicans,” he said. “I believe that it’s most important that we do not turn on each other. We will always have varied differences, and that’s one of our strengths. No one way is the only way, and it will take our collective ideas, and we must struggle with each other to develop a common vision.”
McPherson said solidarity is more critical now than ever because, “Soon, they who think they can profit further from war will come after us. They will use our disunity and egotism to stop us.
“So I say to the U.S. government that we the people will stick together and will not be fooled and will not back down.
“Our demands are simple. End the occupation and bring the troops home now!”
Lori Canada can be reached at .