ONE YEAR AFTER:
Hundreds of Thousands Worldwide Protest on the First
Anniversary of the US Invasion of Iraq
by Sarah Ferguson
A year after the Bush Administration launched its headlong invasion of
Iraq, hundreds of thousands of protesters around the world took to the
streets on March 20 to denounce the war and demand an end to the US-led
Protests and peace vigils took place in more than 300 cities across the US
and in 60 countries. As many as one million Italians (per Reuters) filled
the streets of Rome to denounce their government's support for the war, and
at least 25,000 marched in London (per BBC), where two intrepid Greenpeace
activists caused a security panic by scaling Big Ben to hang a banner that
read, "Time for Truth."
In Spain, some 100,000 marched through Madrid to denounce the war and mourn
the 202 people killed in the March 11 train bombings there, while 150,000
demonstrated in Barcelona. Tens of thousands more protested in cities
across Europe, Asia and Latin America. At least 30,000 marched in Tokyo,
where demonstrators demanded a withdrawal of Japanese troops from Iraq, and
about 10,000 marched on the heavily guarded US embassy in Athens. In Cairo,
AFP reports some 2,000 demonstrators faced off with at least 5,000 riot
police, while in Manila, police used water cannons to disperse hundreds of
demonstrators who tried to march on the US embassy.
In Iraq, in a show of unity that went largely unreported by the US press,
several thousand Shias and Sunnis rallied together, chanting "Yes to Iraq,
no to sectarianism, no to US occupation."
In New York, city officials estimated 30,000 to 40,000 people turned out
for a rally and march through midtown, but organizers said the number was
closer to 100,000.
"Today we sent a message, not only to George Bush and his cronies in
Washington but also to John Kerry and the people he wants to bring to the
White House that our movement is alive and strong we're not going away,"
said Leslie Cagan, national coordinator of United for Peace and Justice
(UFPJ), which initiated the call for a global one-year-later peace
demonstration last October.
Admittedly the crowd sizes in New York and most other cities did not match
the massive demonstrations that took place on February 15, 2003, when an
estimated 500,000 in New York and millions more around the world hit the
streets in hopes of pre-empting the war.
Mobilizing public opposition at the brink of war is easier than building a
mass consensus for what to do once the soldiers have been sent in. Still,
organizers in New York said the turnout there and elsewhere exceeded
expectations, and marked a sense of renewed vigor among anti-war
activists--many of whom felt demoralized once the war began.
After Saddam's speedy fall last April (and the wave of patriotic fervor
that ensued in the US), many activists found themselves under attack, with
mainstream media outlets accusing the anti-war crowd of being "wrong" in
opposing the "liberation" of Iraq. But the rising death toll of US soldiers
and Iraqi civilians, along with near daily revelations of how the Bush
administration manipulated the facts about Iraq's supposed weapons of mass
destruction---not to mention the gruesome terror bombings in Spain--have
given opponents of the war a sense of grim vindication.
"More and more people are being won over to the idea of opposing the
occupation because our service people are dying over there and to what
end?" says UFPJ's Cagan.
MADISON AVENUE FILLED
New York's protest, like those in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago,
was co-sponsored with the more hard-left coalition International ANSWER,
which expanded UFPJ's call to end the US occupation of Iraq to the more
doctrinaire "End Colonial Occupation from Iraq to Palestine to Haiti &
Nevertheless, the New York demonstration drew a remarkably broad
cross-section of people, from large numbers of Arab Americans and
Palestinians, to Haitians angry over the US-backed ouster of Aristide, to
students, Greens, and Kucinich peaceniks, along with union workers,
teachers and more well-heeled professionals--many of them Deaniacs and
At one point the march spanned more than 40 blocks in a broad loop between
40th and 23rd streets along Madison and Sixth avenues. Police segregated
the crowd from the general populace behind barricades throughout the route
and tightly controlled access in and out of the rally portions of the
event. But the barricades were far less obtrusive than the maze of small
constraining "pens" that frustrated protesters at the February 15, 2003
Especially prominent was a large contingent of veterans and about a dozen
military families, whose presence added a level of gravitas to the
protesters' myriad causes.
"Bush lied and who died?" demanded Fernando Suarez del Solar speaking out
on behalf of his 20-year-old son Jesus, who was one of the first Marines
killed during the invasion last March when he stepped on a cluster bomb
dropped by Coalition forces. "More than 570 beautiful human beings have
died in this war, and for what? For lies!" Suarez cried. "America, I am
looking to you. We need to stop this war today. No more dead bodies," he
pleaded, before leading the crowd in a chant of "Bring them home now!"
Suarez's anguish was echoed by Sue Niederer, whose son, Army Lt. Seth
Dvorin, 25, was killed on February 3. Holding a sign that read, "You killed
my son," she castigated President Bush for misleading the nation to war. "I
want answers on my son's death. I want answers to why he was defusing a
bomb when he was never trained to do that. What did he die for? For a
country that hates us, that doesn't want us there? We should bring our
troops home and topple Bush."
Toppling Bush was a central theme of the day, spelled out in a multitude of
placards, from "Outsource Bush" and "Stop Mad Cowboy Disease" to a
40-foot-tall "pink slip" strung up by members of Code Pink on the faade of
a building on 23rd Street that read: "Women Say Fire Bush." (The giant slip
fluttered there for about 20 minutes before police entered the building and
forced the activists to take it down.)
Indeed, many of the demonstrators said they came out not just to voice
their anger at the war but the entire agenda of the Bush administration.
"I'm against everything this president has done," said Jerry Mazak Sr., an
unemployed pipefitter and electrician from Phoenix who carried a sign that
read: "Read my Lips: No New Jobs."
"Bush put a stop to the Clean Air Act, and that shut down a lot of our work
installing scrubbers," said Mazak who marched with two other unemployed
union electricians from Boston. "There's no money for public works. We've
been all over the country looking for jobs."
Brooklyn Congressman Major Owens, speaking on behalf of 133 House members
who voted against the war, saluted the crowd as "warriors for peace" and
urged them to "make your voices louder."
"Adopt a Congressman! They need to hear your voices. Because we are in a
period when the Congress is shriveling," Owens said, pointing to the many
legislators who supported the Republican's "support the troops" resolution
the previous week--even though it claimed the war had made the world a
Other speakers included Ohio congressman and Democratic presidential
candidate Dennis Kucinich and former UK Labor Party MP Tony Benn, head of
Britain's Stop the War Coalition, who said he hoped Americans would "follow
the example of Spain's electorate."
SCHIZOPHRENIC STAGE SHOW
But if the crowd was unified in wanting to see Bush defeated, there were
many differing opinions over what to do about ending the occupation in
Iraq. On stage, there were emphatic demands to "Bring the Troops Home Now!"
but little effort to address the larger question of how this might be
achieved or where the anti-war movement should go from here.
Part of the problem may have been the fact that while UFPJ and
International ANSWER co-sponsored the march, the two organizations had been
openly feuding for months over the direction of the peace movement and how
much to emphasize the struggle in Palestine.
ANSWER--which formed after 9-11, but is widely perceived to be a front
group for the neo-Stalinist Workers World Party--has proved itself adept at
building coalitions for mass demonstrations, particularly with Arab and
Muslim groups. When ANSWER put out its own call for a demonstration on
March 20, UFPJ suggested the groups cooperate to avoid splitting the crowds
at separate events. ANSWER agreed, says Cagan, but insisted that UFPJ make
ending the occupation of Palestine a central demand of the demonstration.
Cagan and others within UFPJ balked, stating that while they agreed it was
important to address Palestine, the main purpose of the March 20
demonstration was to express broad opposition to the war and occupation in
Iraq. ANSWER responded by circulating a letter
signed by numerous Arab and
Muslim groups alleging that it was "racist" of the anti-war movement not to
give the Palestinian cause equal footing.
The letter also claimed it was racist to support a demand that the
occupation of Iraq be "internationalized" with UN troops or other outside
peacekeeping forces--a position it said smacked of "the white man's burden
In the end UFPJ and ANSWER agreed to collaborate on March 20 but with
separate messaging-which made for a somewhat schizophrenic stage show. The
split was apparent as the march stepped off on 23rd Street behind two
separate banners: UFPJ's "End the Occupation: Bring the Troops Home!"
running side-by-side with ANSWER's more elaborate: "End the Occupations of
Iraq, Palestine, Haiti & EverywhereÉ" While the UFPJ contingent chanted
"Money for housing, not for war!", the ANSWER folks shouted over them:
"Occupation is a crime, from Iraq to Palestine!"
While Dennis Kucinich urged the crowd to "radiate peace," a Pakistani
speaker raged at America's "redneck" president and demanded a withdrawal of
US troops from Iraq, Palestine, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, where,
he said, "they're killing thousands of innocent people." As he spoke,
someone taped a photo to the speakers' platform of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the
Pakistani scientist who apparently peddled nuclear materials to North Korea
On stage, the Palestinian cause did get high billing, with speakers from
both the UFPJ and ANSWER coalitions denouncing the US role in subsidizing
the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. But the ANSWER speakers were
more strident. "Our intifada is an antiwar movement," declared Hussein
Agrama of the Free Palestine Alliance. "If you support the antiwar
movement, you have to support the Palestinian intifada, because it is a
movement against occupation, against racist apartheid, and against
That effort to equate Iraq and Palestine has drawn fire from pro-Israel
groups like the Jewish Anti-Defamation League (ADL). In a recent posting to
its website, the ADL warns that the "alliance" between UFPJ and ANSWER
"signals that UPJ [sic] is prepared to integrate anti-Israelism into the
heart of its message, thereby heightening the possibility that anti-Jewish
rancor will be widespread and acute."
No doubt the ADL claims are alarmist. While UFPJ voted at its national
conference last June to increase its focus on the Palestine conflict,
UFPJ's member groups have thus far "agreed to disagree" on how peace might
be achieved in the Middle East, leaving individual groups to decide such
thorny questions as whether there should be one state, or two states, or a
right of return for Palestinian refugees. And unlike ANSWER, UFPJ has put
out a position criticizing all attacks on civilians--whether by Israeli
military forces or Palestinian groups--calling them counterproductive to
UFPJ promoted the March 20 demos under the broadest possible umbrella--"The
World Still Says No to War"--a message of universal condemnation that made
room for more mainstream groups like Win Without War, True Majority,
MoveOn.org, and the National Council of Churches to participate without
having to commit to UFPJ's more adamant demand to "Bring the Troops Home
Instead, these groups encouraged their members to take part in vigils and
memorials to commemorate the nearly 600 US soldiers and estimated 10,000
Iraqi civilians that have died since the invasion began--without taking an
explicit "troops out" stance.
Win Without War (which includes groups like True Majority and the National
Council of Churches) also shied away from endorsing the March 20 marches in
New York and other cities because of ANSWER's involvement.
"We're not comfortable with ANSWER's politics and the way they go about
organizing," said Win Without War's David Cortright in an interview prior
to the march. "We have no disagreement with the need for a Palestinian
state and to stop the US's one-sided support for Israel, but we didn't
think Palestine should be the primary demand at this demonstration because
that alienates potential supporters."
Similarly, some grassroots organizers said they were put off by ANSWER's
efforts to "strongarm" the antiwar movement with race-baiting. "They're
just a little group of Stalinists who specialize in being divisive and
co-opting other people's work," complained one peace activist in North
Carolina who asked not to be named.
Activists with UFPJ conceded that the cause of Palestine did get more
emphasis in New York and elsewhere because of ANSWER's pressure tactics.
And many in the anti-war movement say the escalation of violence in the
Middle East makes this an issue the movement can't afford to sideline.
In an interview after the march, UFPJ's Leslie Cagan said the split was
more a matter of emphasis and organizing tactics, rather than over the
issue of Palestine itself. "We think our job is to open this movement up to
the broadest number of people," Cagan said. "You have to appeal to people
where they are at. But once you bring people out, you can engage them in
how these other issues like Palestine are connected."
Still, by downplaying differences, some question whether the antiwar
movement risks being lumped in with ANSWER's more kneejerk politics. ANSWER
is led by members of another Worker's World Party spinoff, the
International Action Center--a group that has defended both Saddam Hussein
and North Korea's Kim Jong-Il, and whose leader, Ramsey Clark, is on the
defense committee for Slobodan Milosevic.
BRING THEM HOME HOW?
Left unaddressed by the speakers at Saturday's march was the larger
question of what bringing home the troops actually means. Should the US
simply withdraw and leave the Iraqis to fashion a democracy for themselves,
as ANSWER advocates? Or should the peace movement push for the United
Nations to oversee a truly international peacekeeping force to help
facilitate real elections and prevent the country from devolving into civil
war or becoming an even greater magnet for terror? And if the UN or other
countries won't go in, then what?
"Our position is the Bush adminstration created a mess and the quickest way
to clear it up is to get out now," says UFPJ's Cagan--though she
acknowledges there's no consensus over what to call for next. "Most of the
groups in our ranks support bringing in the UN or Arab forces to lend
international support; others see the UN as just a puppet. But the key
thing is to get the US forces and military bases out. Once you take the
occupying military power out of the equation, everything changes. Perhaps
some indigenous forces will arise. You can't even know what the solutions
are unless you take the threat of US force out of the picture."
That kind of stance worries some critics, who say that with the US
occupation failing in Iraq, the Bush Administration would like nothing
better than to cut its losses and get out, leaving the Iraqis or the UN to
pick up the pieces. "The risk here is that that by demanding an immediate
pullout without some sort of transition to UN power, the peace movement is
dovetailing into Bush's position," says Stephen Bronner, a professor of
political science at Rutgers University.
Others say the debate over the mechanisms of how the US withdraws from Iraq
is academic, because the US has no intention of abandoning its interests
"I think the coalition of the unwilling has to take over through the UN,"
commented Tony Benn, referring to those countries who refused to back the
war last year. "But it's got to be a real takeover, it can't just be a
cover for the US occupation. The problem is, I don't think the US will
accept a demand which will take them out of control of Iraq. [US
administrator Paul] Bremer just wants the UN to come in and provide cover."
Cortright of Win Without War said his group has been reluctant to get
behind the "bring them home now" demand because it "couldn't happen
immediately" and "there has to be some alternative interim force to take
the US's place."
"Under international law, we have an obligation to provide for the
wellbeing and security of the Iraqi people," Cortright argued. "For the UN
to go in, it will need the support of the governing council and leading
Iraqi figures, and we don't have that yet."
Peace activists concede there are no easy answers. But for those who
marched on March 20, the point was to keep opposition to the war and
"Realistically, we know the troops aren't coming home tomorrow," says Medea
Benjamin of Code Pink and Global Exchange. "But it's still important to
call for the troops to come home, because that will make a difference how
long they stay there--and whether it's a year, five years or 10 years. The
stronger we call for this now, the more chance there is that it will happen
sooner rather than later."
Sarah Ferguson is a New York-based freelancer who often covers activism.
Photographer Diane Greene Lent has photos of the New York demonstration
See some rather unsavory shots from the San Francisco rally.
Special to WORLD WAR 3 REPORT, April 9, 2004
Reprinting permissible with attribution