A Strong, Spirited March
by John Leslie
A diverse crowd of from 5,000 to 10,000 people converged on Washington, DC on March 21 to mark the sixth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. A large number of the protesters were students and youth, many there for their first national demonstration. The crowd also included numerous Arab and Muslim people.
The role of young people shows the potential for a rejuvenated antiwar movement. Aubrey, a young activist from Connecticut said: â€œThis was actually my first national demonstration, and I had an amazing experience. The energy of the march was awesome and very inspiring. I think the experience got a lot of new people anchored into the antiwar movement, and I know it boosted my confidence in building the anti-war movement during the Obama era.â€
The rally at the beginning had speakers reflecting the organizations that built the demonstration. Speakers denounced the continued occupation of Iraq and the escalation of the war in Afghanistan. Chris Gauvreau, speaking for Connecticut United for Peace and the National Assembly, reflected on the reasons we need to keep fighting to end these wars:
â€œIt has been difficult to build this demonstration. Because each day the corporate media runs a story about how the war in Iraq is winding down. But when I woke up this morning and read the moving appeal from the Iraq Veterans and the Military Families. They said that we must keep marching until every last troop and mercenary is brought home from Iraq and the Iraqi people have true self-determination. And I read the appeal from Iraqi trade unionists meeting in February to steel themselves to step up the fight against the theft of Iraqi oil by U.S. corporations with the blessing of the U.S. backed occupation regime. They plead for our solidarity against the criminal plans that Exxon and Washington have cooked up for their country.â€
The march stepped off and went first to the Pentagon and then on to Crystal City in Virginia; home to defense contractors like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and KBR. The march was led by a large contingent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. There were also energetic contingents of Student and Youth ANSWER and the Campus Antiwar Network.
The National Assembly made its presence felt with hundreds of signs against the occupations and opposing the bailout of Wall Street. National Assembly supporters also distributed literature publicizing the July 10 conference in Pittsburgh. One activist from the NA told Socialist Action that he â€œwas part of the National Assembly intervention, which was successful â€¦I passed out at least a couple hundred flyers, often people already had them. The NA placards were highly visible.â€
At the end point of the march, several hundred riot-equipped cops and soldiers waited for the demonstrators. They cordoned off the areas where the defense contractorsâ€™ buildings are located. Hundreds of demonstrators surged into a courtyard in front of the KBR (KBR, a Halliburton subsidiary) building and chanted antiwar slogans.
KBR has received no-bid contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan; both for base construction and for â€œreconstructionâ€ projects. KBR is also implicated in the scandal involving electrocutions in showers built on US bases; the showers being poorly grounded and leading the deaths of more than 18 troops and civilian personnel.
The high energy level of the march was reflected in the fact that demonstrators stayed in the vicinity of the KBR building after the short end rally was completed.
At the end of the rally, ANSWER leader, Brain Becker, urged folks to leave in groups and not get separated from fellow protesters in order to avoid victimization by cops. There were several attempts to provoke the crowd by cops, however, antiwar leaders and monitors were able to keep the demonstration peaceful and orderly despite provocations by the police.
We left on the bus back to Philly energized. Conversations about Palestine and Afghanistan and about US policy in the middle East raged for most of the ride home. Some of the folks on our bus had just attended their first national demonstration. Others of us had lost count. Still, we shared one thing: a determination to end these wars and occupations and stop US aggression worldwide.