by Katherine Stapp
the U.S. government pours troops into the Persian Gulf region, opposition to the administration's policy of "pre-emptive war" against Iraq is growing, with at least half a million demonstrators turning out in cities across the U.S. and abroad Jan. 18 to press their case for peace.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters braved freezing temperatures in the nation's capital to march the five-kilometer route from the Capitol Building to Washington's Navy Yard, in what organizers said was the largest rally in recent years at a military base on U.S. soil.
"It really breaks any claim that there's a consensus in this country to go to war," said Chuck Kaufman, a member of the steering committee for the New York-based group International Answer, which organized the Washington march.
Saturday's gathering was the second mass mobilization in Washington against an Iraq war since October. Simultaneous protests were held in Canada, Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan, Pakistan, Syria, Egypt, France, Mexico, the Netherlands, the Philippines, South Korea and Spain.
Tens of thousands of anti-war demonstrators also turned out in San Francisco, Tampa, Portland and other U.S. cities.
President George W. Bush was at his Camp David retreat.
Some analysts say that such mass actions, combined with other forms of political mobilization, could play a major role in shifting foreign policy.
"It puts political figures on notice of the breadth and depth of public opposition, it inspires participants to become more active politically in organizing against the war and it legitimizes dissent at a time when governments wish to display a united country behind their politics," said Stephen Zunes, an associate professor of politics and chair of the peace and justice studies programme at the University of San Francisco.
On Jan. 16, the heads of the UN weapons inspection teams, Hans Blix and Mohamed El Baradei, said that while Iraq has not made "a serious effort" to comply substantively with their requests for information about weapons of mass destruction, they do not anticipate any major revelations by the deadline of Jan. 27.
"In this case, it could make the Pentagon nervous about fighting a war without the backing of the American people, something which they have tried to avoid since Vietnam," said Zunes. "It could embolden foreign governments to be more critical of U.S. policy without appearing "anti-American," since it would show that many Americans don't like the policy either. These could make the Bush administration more reluctant to take unilateral action."
Others were more cautious in their assessments.
"Unless the turnout for the demonstration is unexpectedly large, it is unlikely to have a direct and immediate effect on the White House or the Congress," said William Galston, a professor at the School of Public Affairs at the University of Maryland.
"If it is perceived as harshly critical of the United States, it could backfire. But if the demonstration is orderly, cogent, and patriotic in tone and spirit, it could help nudge mainstream public opinion further towards skepticism about invading Iraq," Galston said.
Only two arrests - one for disorderly conduct and one for writing graffiti on a Library of Congress building - were reported at Saturday's protest, which drew religious, labor, socialist and youth groups from around the country.
Marchers sang hymns and waved signs that included "Apocalypse No" and "Killing Iraqi Children Won't Make Us Safe."
"I'm a Quaker who's violently against any kind of war,Ó said Rob Comfort, who drove from Maryland with his daughter. "But I'm also glad to see that protesters are looking at other issues like Palestine. This is not just about the war, it's about all the terrible injustices we wreak with our foreign policies."
"It's a really serious statement this time," added Judy Powers of Maine. "Those who are in disagreement have built up to this. I'm standing here because of the war, but it's symptomatic of how authoritarian and centralized this administration has become."
The largest protest in Canada occurred in Montreal, where up to 20,000 men, women and children braved icy temperatures to march through downtown streets and past the U.S. embassy.
"Yes to peace, no to war," they chanted in English, French and Spanish as Saturday afternoon shoppers on Ste. Catherine street stopped to watch them pass.
Demonstrations took place in 40 other Canadian cities on the same day media reported a recent poll suggesting that two-thirds of citizens would oppose an attack on Iraq not sanctioned by the United Nations. Eighteen percent would disagree with military action under any circumstances.
On Washington's streets, many protesters stressed the Bush administration's close ties to the oil industry, chanting "No Dead Babies for Oil" and "Who Will Profit? Who Will Die?"
"He's basically paying back the guys who put him into office," said Sam Clifton, who came by bus from Virginia. "It's so hypocritical."
Speakers at the morning rally included Rev. Herbert Daughtry, a pastor and civil rights activist, Ramsey Clark, a former U.S. attorney-general, and the actress Jessica Lange.
"The path this administration is on is wrong and we object. It is an immoral war they are planning and we must not be silenced," said Lange.
International Answer and other peace groups are calling for a week of anti-war actions in New York City starting on Feb. 15. That is also the date set for large rallies in many European cities.
"It (the war) seems like it has a momentum and a sense of inevitability, and so we're rushing against the clock," said Larry Holmes of the Answer coalition.
Saturday was also the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., a prominent African-American civil rights activist who was assassinated in 1968. Many protesters invoked his legacy: "Somehow This Madness Must Cease - MLK," read one placard.
January 21, 2003 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
All Rights Reserved.
Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.