Bathed in blue-skies and 55-degree weather, veterans, labor and religious groups, and people from around the U.S. marched along a route that encircled the Capital building. The march’s route was significantly altered to accommodate a volume of participants the police had not expected.
According to Susan Scenelle, United for Peace and Justice’s internet coordinator, her organization had requested to be allowed to march around the Capital, but the police said no, cutting the route in half. "After a very long drawn out negotiation process, the afternoon before the rally, we finally came to a compromise where the route would double back along First street and along Constitution."
"The police had set up barriers along First Street to help with that you turn and our security people were prepared to make that u-turn. But when everybody turned onto First Street, people went around the barriers. When they got to the end of First Street, where the buses were blocking the turn onto Independence, there was no way to make the turn."
According to Scenelle, United for Peace and Justice ended up getting the route they had initially requested when the police realized they could not funnel the protestors into the u-turn. "Rep. (Maxine) Waters and others went over and talked to the police," said Scenelle. "The police realized there was no way to make 500,000 people turn around and go back. They ended up moving them and we marched down Independence."
A testament to the power of a determined and mobilized electorate, the peace surge had taken over the grounds around the capital. All the police could do was to back down and watch as protestors ignored barricades and tore down police tape. Crowds passionately chanted, straining their voices at times: "No more war!" "This is what democracy looks like." "Not one more dollar."
Other protestors, including many parents with their children, were perched upon government buildings along the march-route, brandishing home-made signs calling for world peace and a quick end to military conflict. Holding signs that condemned escalation, war with Iran, and urged impeachment, participants created a serious but festive atmosphere of dissent.
The devilishness of Bush’s administration seemed to be a consistent and agreed upon theme marchers took hold of. One man was dressed as Bush/devil, sinisterly waiving to passerby. Also, a papier-mâché devil loomed large over a group of marchers who were playing drums as many, including two on stilts, danced. Complaining that the problem of war was endemic to Capitalism, Socialists were well represented as several stationed throughout the march handed out a four-page paper, "Revolution." A group of Code Pink women carried a large pink slip above their heads chanting, ‘here come the pink slips, here come the pink slips.’ Florida Peace activists Vicki Impoco, Sharan Miller, and Mindy Stone marched with a banner reading: "Melbourne, Florida – War Isn’t Working – Troops Out Now!!"
Impoco, who is the co-organizer of Brevard Patriots for Peace, said she flew to Washington, DC to try and put a stop to the President’s plans for escalation in Iraq. In an interview after the march Impoco, 52, said she was particularly encouraged to see so many veterans participate in the event. "I think what moved me the most was when I saw a Marine in full dress just walking through the crowd," she said, "what courage that took. I went up to him and shook his hand and thanked him for his courage and for being there."
She was also surprised with the tone of the march: "That was my first demonstration in Washington DC and I was just really overwhelmed by the number of people that were there; and how peaceful it was; and that there no negative incidents; and how everyone just bonded."
A long-time activist with several DC marches under her belt, Miller said there were more young people involved than in the past. "I think the difference was all the families and the college students especially, the young people, high school students. I think that was a huge difference from past marches."
Capturing the demanding mood of the event and its participants, Rev. Graylin Hagler of Plymouth Congregational Church, Washington, D.C, said he wanted to remind the Congress: "When we voted in mid-term elections…it was not a multiple choice question; when we voted it was not a suggestion; when we voted it was a directive to bring our troops home now."
Referring to a proposed Senate non-binding resolution against President Bush’s troop build-up, Hagler said: "We will not allow some toothless resolution that does nothing but allow politicians to look good. Bring our troops home; stop the killing; stop the dying…; bring on the peace. We are the people and we’re speaking for the people."
Proving the breadth and strength of the event, dozens of speakers representing a variety of groups and concerns were on hand including twelve-year-old Moriah Arnold of Harvard, Mass, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of the Jewish magazine, Tikkun.
Moreover, several U.S. Representatives were on hand pushing not just rhetoric, but plans for peace. Speakers included Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), a candidate for the 2008 presidency, Rep. John Conyers from (D-Michigan), and chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-California), Rep. Maxine Waters (D-California), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California).
Woosley, joined by Waters and Lee, has introduced H.R. 508, "Bring Our Troops Home and Sovereignty of Iraq Restoration Act," which she told marchers would "end the U.S. occupation in Iraq within six months, saving lives, and limbs, and money and American’s standing in the world."
Adding, "H.R. 508 is the only comprehensive legislation that puts us on the fast track to a fully funded military withdraw from Iraq."
Rep. Waters, an African-American, offered fierce criticism of the administration, including Condoleezza Rice. "My name is Maxine Waters and I’m not afraid of George W. Bush; My name is Maxine Waters and I’m not intimated by Dick Cheney; My name is Maxine Waters and I helped to rid of Rumsfeld; My name is Maxine Waters and Condie Rice is nothing but another Neocon and she doesn’t represent me."
Concerned that too much was made of celebrity speakers, Impoco said Waters was her favorite of the speakers. "I just liked her message," Impoco said. "She was going to stand up to George Bush and not fund the war."
Throughout the event, at the foot of the stage, anti-war group Code Pink had set-up what may have been the most moving display at the event, an eight-foot cylinder containing pairs of shoes representing the Iraqi dead. One of the group’s members encouraged protestors to place an ID tag, including the victim’s name, gender, age, and manner of death, on to one of the hundreds of shoes spilling out five feet around the base of the mobile memorial. The memorialized dead were victims of everything from insurgency car-bombs to pre-invasion U.S. bombing raids.
By the protest’s end, trashcans overflowed with disregarded signs, activists headed to cozy hotels and homes, and event organizers teared down the main stage speaker platform. Still, a steady stream of sad-eyed volunteers placed tags on shoes.
Photo from Indymedia.org