Antiwar Activists From Across U.S. Preparing for Weekend of Protests
By Manny Fernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 13, 2003; Page B01
Dallas lawyer Robert B. Dennis is headed to Washington this week, one of about 50 Texans willing to endure a 22-hour bus ride.
Amer Mirza, a Web developer from suburban Chicago, has been signing up Muslims in his area for seats on a charter bus he plans to ride.
Casey Chapman, a senior at Catholic Central High School in Troy, N.Y., will join a dozen other teenagers in a chaperone-driven van.
Dennis, Mirza and Chapman are a fraction of the thousands coming to Washington for a national antiwar demonstration Saturday, a rally and march that they and organizers say will be their last chance for a massive display of dissent before the United States goes to war with Iraq.
"The Iraqi people are not our enemy," said Dennis, 70, a member of the Dallas Peace Center. "We don't need to subject them to another war and more bombings."
Saturday's rally and march follow an October protest that drew about 100,000, a turnout organizers and police said was the largest antiwar demonstration in the nation's capital since the protests against the Vietnam War. And like the October protest, this action has drawn counter-demonstrators who vow a loud but peaceful rally.
The same coalition that coordinated the October rally, International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), is organizing this week's protest. Brian Becker, an ANSWER spokesman, said it is too early to tell whether the crowd will be as big as or bigger than that at the previous march. But he said tens of thousands are planning to make the trip, as organizers from Texas to New York to Wisconsin arrange for charter buses, car caravans and flights to the District.
"The most important thing politically for us is to shatter the false myth of consensus," Becker said.
D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said he "wouldn't be surprised" if the turnout in Washington matched that in October. He said that his department will be ready for that size crowd but that he does not expect disruptions. Previous ANSWER protests -- including a pro-Palestinian rally in April that attracted about 75,000 -- have been relatively free of incidents. "We don't anticipate any problems," Ramsey said. "It's been a peaceful group to date."
The rally is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. on the Mall near Third Street and Constitution Avenue NW just beyond the west front of the Capitol. Scheduled speakers include actress Jessica Lange, Vietnam veteran and author Ron Kovic, former representative Cynthia A. McKinney (D-Ga.) and others from labor, peace and Muslim organizations.
After the rally, participants plan to march to the gates of the Washington Navy Yard, where organizers said they would call for the elimination of U.S. weapons of mass destruction. They emphasized that no civil disobedience is planned.
Counter-protesters say they will rally at Constitution Gardens on the Mall at 9 a.m. Saturday and later greet marchers outside the U.S. Marine Corps barracks at Eighth and I streets SE. The D.C. chapter of the national organization Free Republic, a frequent counter-presence at protests, and MOVE-OUT! (Marines and Other Veterans Engaging Outrageous Un-American Traitors) are organizing this event.
The ANSWER protest, which will have counterparts in San Francisco, Canada, Spain and elsewhere, organizers say, is one of several Washington antiwar rallies coinciding with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. ANSWER organizers also have planned a youth and student march at 11 a.m. Sunday from the Justice Department to the White House.
Also Sunday, two antiwar coalitions, D.C. Iraq Pledge of Resistance and United for Peace, plan an 11:30 a.m. rally at Farragut Square followed by a march to the White House, where organizers said at least 50 people will conduct civil disobedience, though details are being worked out. Activists said they wanted to link King's opposition to the Vietnam War to the current peace movement.
Monday, the holiday marking King's birthday, the national activist group Black Voices for Peace plans a rally to celebrate King's legacy and oppose war against Iraq. It is set for 3 p.m. at Plymouth Congregational Church in Northeast Washington.
About 220 organizing centers in 45 states are coordinating transportation and spreading the word about Saturday's ANSWER rally, 70 more than in October, said ANSWER organizer Sarah Sloan. Some groups that brought one busload to the rally in October said the response this time required them to have two or three buses, while others that were unable to attend the previous demonstration said they are now making the trek.
Sara Iglesias, 29, an activist and writer in Miami Beach, said she has been fielding up to 10 phone calls and up to 15 e-mails daily from people seeking transportation to Washington. "We have three charter buses now, and we may do another, and that's not counting the people who are in caravans or flying up," she said. A high school teacher, a civil rights lawyer and a Holocaust survivor are among those who have signed up for seats, she said.
In October, Iglesias helped organize one bus of protesters. "We've been in touch with many more people due to the fact that we've made more connections and the fact that this antiwar movement is going more mainstream and getting more publicity," she said.
Mirza, 23, of Glendale Heights, Ill., said one 55-seat bus is almost filled with Muslims and supporters, and another might be needed. "There has been a lot of hate crimes in Chicago after 9/11. Now, the fear is they will get more extreme" if the United States wages war against Iraq, said Mirza, a founder of the Muslim League.
College and high school students from 400 campuses nationwide are planning to attend, organizers said. University of Iowa student David Goodner is joining classmates on a 17-hour bus ride to Washington. Student Carl Sack at Northland College in Ashland, Wis., who attended a march there in October, is set to board one of three buses for the national rally.
Chapman, 17, is coming to the District with fellow members of a youth group called Free the Children. "I think that people have to realize that it's never too young for people to be involved with activism and making your voice heard," said Chapman, who also marched in October.
Activists said they hope the demonstration energizes a U.S. antiwar movement that has shown signs of gaining momentum in recent weeks, as military preparations and troop deployments for an assault on Iraq have escalated. The march was timed to precede the Jan. 27 deadline for the first major report by weapons inspectors to the U.N. Security Council.
That date had been viewed by some Bush administration officials as a decision point on whether Iraq's cooperation has been sufficient to head off a military strike. Last week, though, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell played down the date's importance.
Organizers said they fear they are running out of time. "The American people have very little time left to tell President Bush -- in their voice, which he can't ignore -- they don't want our United States of America to become an aggressor nation and attack Iraq," former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark said at an ANSWER news conference in Washington last week.
Clark founded the International Action Center, one of the groups that led the effort to create International ANSWER as a response to the Bush administration's war on terrorism. He has drawn criticism as an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War who traveled to that country during the war.
Subsequently, he has served as a lawyer for Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav president on trial for war crimes, and Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the Egyptian cleric convicted of masterminding the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
But many of those planning to come to Washington said that the views of the organizers are of little concern to them and that the larger antiwar movement is bigger than any organizing group.
"I'm told they're some kind of radicals, but I don't care," said Dennis, of ANSWER. "Good organizers are worth their weight in gold."