Protesters March for Broad Agenda in New York

Calling for an end to destructive foreign and domestic policies, the nine primary organizations sponsoring the event set the tone for a demonstration that highlighted an expansive agenda: stop "oil wars," protect civil liberties and immigrants’ rights, rebuild Gulf Coast communities, and address global climate change.

Organizers estimated that the "March for Peace, Justice and Democracy" swelled to 350,000 people. Police declined to give an estimate. The procession began on 22nd Street and Broadway and culminated in a "festival" in lower Manhattan’s Foley Square.

"We thought it was a great way to end the march," said Hany Khalil, an organizing coordinator for the national anti-war network United For Peace and Justice (UFPJ). "The main purpose of the festival was to give all the groups that came together for this march an opportunity to introduce people to their work so that we could continue to build the movement."

Demonstrators of all ages, ethnicities and political motivations took part in the mostly celebratory and entirely non-violent protest. The tenor of the march differed from recent anti-war protests in most of the world, where a sense of urgency has been more explicit.

Placards bore a broad span of slogans. From the funny – "Make hummus not war" – to the serious – "No invasion of Iran" – the messages scrawled across bobbing signs and banners read like a bad report card. According to the crowd, the Bush administration is flunking on all accounts.

"We truly are one in terms of disapproving of the despotic way Bush is making decisions," said Bonnie Koshofer, 57, an occupational therapist from Schenectady, New York. "We’re all saying the same thing. More than just an anti-war umbrella, this is an anti-administration umbrella, and as you look around today, I think you’ll see that common thread."

Groups ranging from the Young Communist League to the Grannies Peace Brigade held up banners, distributed leaflets, and marched 30 blocks in the sunny, 60-degree weather. The Missile Dick Chicks’ spontaneous dance routines poked fun at the administration’s war mentality, while Bread and Puppet’s solemn display of shrouded women carrying puppets of dead bodies evoked the anguish of mourning Iraqis.

Protesters pulled an imitation jail cell holding a protester dressed in the orange jumpsuit of Guantánamo Bay detainees. The satirical group Billionaires for Bush acted rich and entitled, while haphazard marching bands created pockets of music.

"It’s an electric atmosphere," said Ben King, 20, of Middlebury, Vermont.

Organizers of the march did not plan acts of civil disobedience.

"At this point, we know that a march can draw hundreds of thousands of people, while acts of civil disobedience only bring out small minorities of the most committed people who are willing to take that risk at the moment," Khalil said.

While the march enabled protesters to address a whole host of social concerns, many people focused their attention to the war in Iraq. Demonstrators personalized mass-produced signs that read "Another ____ against the War" by inserting phrases such as "Franco-American" and "Jewish Mets fan."

"I would like the world to see how many people in this country do not support the war and care for our soldiers," said Peggy Akres, who went to Vietnam in 1970 as a nurse.

Pat McLaine, who came from Columbia, Maryland to march with Military Families Speak Out, said: "We’re here to stand up against the war. We’re tired of seeing people get killed." McLaine said she has seen six members of her family go to Iraq; all of them have returned home.

Contingents from the labor movement, including US Labor Against the War, which represents approximately 100 unions across the country, were a key endorser of the anti-war platform.

"We all believe it’s the time to end this war," said first-time protester Renee, an administrative organizer with the Service Employees International Union in Pennsylvania, a healthcare workers’ union, who declined to give her last name. She came to New York with about 1,000 other union members.

Others drew attention to the administration’s threat to invade Iran.

"The administration has picked up the rhetoric against Iran, and I’m afraid we may see a repeat of what happened three years ago," said Wendy Woods, 50, a director of a non-profit in Vermont who marched with Bread and Puppet.

Many protesters used the march to draw parallels between the war in Iraq and domestic social problems.

"Oftentimes these issues are connected," said Joseph Gainza, a volunteer with UFPJ who helped organize the event. "Telling a woman what to do with her body is similar to telling a country what to do with its oil. There’s a dominance mentality."

Outraged by the lack of funding for Gulf states after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, some protesters carried signs demanding accountability to the victims.

"I truly believe in bringing justice to the Gulf Coast," said Koshofer of Schenectady, who held a placard bearing that inscription. "I think it was terrible that they were treated that way."

Vincent Avagliano, 26, a recent law graduate from Pennsylvania State University, carried a sign with two messages: "End the war in Iraq" and "End the war on immigrants."

"I think right now it’s okay to have two messages on your sign," he said. "I wish I could have fit more."

Some protesters, however, said the loose agenda detracted from a unified anti-war message.

"The anti-war movement is somewhat fractured," Woods said. "There are so many messages underneath the anti-war agenda. But right now we need to focus on stopping the war and the killing. That’s first and foremost."

Enrique Cebeda, an education councilor with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in New York, disagreed with that appraisal.

"People will always have their own agendas, but I think the motivation behind the masses is that they are against the war," he said.

Avagliano added, "Even though we’re different, we’re all out here for peace."

Additional messages at the march included an intervention in Darfur, funding for education, repealing the Patriot Act and an end to corporate welfare.

David Cooke, 64, of Long Island, held the tail end of a giant backbone puppet that represented what he saw as a weakness of the Democrats. "We’re demanding that Democratic legislators show us some backbone and stand up for what we want," said Cooke, who was demonstrating with the Backbone Campaign.

Young people were also demonstrating in large numbers at the march.

"We are the future of this country, and if young people don’t stand up here and now, when will we?" said Tiffany Thomas, a 17-year-old high school student from Philadelphia and a member of Youth United for Change.

Many young people said they have drawn inspiration from the recent youth-led protests in France.

"I’ve seen what’s been happening in France and how much they’ve accomplished, and I think we can learn a lesson from that," said King, a student at Middlebury College.

The Progressive Labor Party, a mostly youth contingent, wore T-shirts that said "Smash All Borders." They advocated for a Communist approach to create change.

"I’m here because I don’t think we can stop wars until we overthrow the capitalist machines," said Sadegh Robinson, 21. "So we need to look at the systems as a whole."

Hundreds of people gathered on the sidewalks of the street-cordoned march to watch the protesters.

"I support them fully," said Edith Sydney, a retired teacher. "They’re peaceable, intelligent and non-violent. If The Man can listen, this should be a poll to reflect what’s going on."

Bill McCarthy, 68, favored the invasion and said he did not think the protest would accomplish much.

"It’s going to take a lot of people to do anything," he said. "And if you have a protest that has 30,000 to 40,000 people, that’s a lot, but that’s still not that much in a metro area of 20 million people."

Protesters in the march, however, were encouraged by the turnout.

"Just look around you," said the SEIU’s Cebeda. "There are a lot of people here today. And the momentum is building. It’s getting bigger every day."

The organizations that initiated the march were United for Peace and Justice, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, National Organization for Women, Friends of the Earth, U.S. Labor Against the War, Climate Crisis Coalition, People’s Hurricane Relief Fund, National Youth and Student Peace Coalition, and Veterans for Peace.

This article was originally published by The NewStandard News. If you liked the article, consider supporting The NewStandard, an excellent source for well researched, hard news on under-reported topics.

Photos by Stanley W. Rogouski