GW students braved the bitter cold and joined about 100,000 protesters as they marched through the streets of Washington D.C. on Saturday, part of a worldwide demonstration against a possible war in Iraq.
Protesters congregated on the Capitol Mall and urged the Bush administration to sue for a peaceful solution in Iraq. Police were present throughout three days of largely peaceful demonstrations, though Metropolitan Police arrested 16 protesters Sunday.
The Saturday march also commemorated the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose legacy of peaceful demonstrating was a rallying cry for the protesters.
Demonstrators said they felt the need to bring a student perspective to the march.
“I think what we’re doing is really important,” junior Hannah Clark said. “People are getting together on their own campuses, and then coming down here to Washington to protest.”
Among the speakers at the rally were the Reverend Jesse Jackson, the Reverend Al Sharpton, actress Jessica Lange, Congressman John Conyers of Michigan and Ron Kovic, a Vietnam veteran whose life was the basis for the Oliver Stone film, Born on the Fourth of July.
Students said they were hopeful a strong voice of opposition would rise from college campuses as the prospect of war inches closer.
“We’ve heard criticism that (the campus anti-war movement) is not growing fast enough, but this war hasn’t even started yet,” sophomore Mischa Sogut said. “This movement is proactive, not reactive. If a war does start, it’s only going to get bigger.”
Jackson accused the Bush administration of abstaining from its responsibilities to negotiate peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. He invoked the memory of Dr. King, and urged the crowd to use civil disobedience if necessary. Jackson concluded with chanting, “negotiation over confrontation.”
“Students are key to spreading the message of peace,” Jackson told the Hatchet after his speech. “We welcome those of all ages to this cause.”
Demonstrators marched to the Washington Navy Yard in Southeast, where they called on the United States to relinquish its weapons of mass destruction. Among the crowd were college students, families and military veterans.
Rachel Dwyer-Mantooth drove to D.C. from Kentucky for the weekend accompanied by her eight-month old daughter, Emma.
“I grew up in a political family, so I’ve always been very involved in politics,” Dwyer-Mantooth said. “There’s no reason my daughter, no matter how young, shouldn’t be political and be exposed to political issues.”
Emily Weiss, a senior at St. Louis University, was part of a progressive student group of more than 150 people.
” If people continue to protest, the general consensus will turn against this war,” Weiss said. ” I just don’t want to see anyone die.”
Professor Penny Marcus of the University of Pennsylvania accompanied more than 200 students to the protest.
” I just feel we have to take a stand,” Marcus said. “We can’t be passive. I teach a course on the Holocaust, and I always tell my students that they can’t be passive observers of history.”
“There’s not that much awareness concerning the war on (the University of Pennsylvania) campus,” Marcus added. “Students are not as informed as they should be. I’d like to see more activism on campus, and I try to encourage that through my teachings.”
James Johnson of Englewood, Florida came to protest in memory of his brother, a first lieutenant in the army who was killed in Vietnam.
” The Vietnam war was a total waste of 58,000 people from my generation,” Johnson said. ” I just don’t want to see it happen again.”
As anti-war protesters approached the Navy Yard, they were confronted by a small contingent of counter-protesters, the pro-war veteran group MOVE OUT! (Marines and Other Veterans Engaging Outrageous Un-American Traitors). MOVE OUT! held a smaller rally at the Vietnam War Memorial earlier in the day.
” The only reason these people are allowed to protest is because we fought and died so they could have that right,” said MOVE OUT! organizer Joe Kernodle. Members of the group chanted, “swim to Cuba,” at passing anti-war demonstrators.
Curtis Silwa, radio personality and founder of the Guardian Angels, came with his fellow Guardian Angels to support the counter-protesters.
“The role of the Guardian Angels is to keep the peace,” Silwa said. “The (anti-war) protesters are here in overwhelming numbers, and some of them might get excited and resort to violence. We’re here to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
On Friday, about 40 people gathered at the Department of Justice to protest the targeting of minorities in arrests and deportations. The protesters marched to the White House, where they danced and played music while handing out flyers to onlookers.
“These (racial targeting) issues come about only when our country is getting ready for war,” said Eli Weaver, a senior at Hampshire College in Massachusetts. “Our country is going after people saying ‘if you look XYZ you’re a terrorist.'”
A student demonstration near the White House Sunday was marked by several arrests as Park Police and special protest units arrested 16 demonstrators who crossed police lines attempting to gain access to a closed park. While some in the Sunday group called for civil disobedience against the police, others continued peacefully chanting and singing.
At one point demonstrators changed their chant, which contained offensive language, for the benefit of the children in the crowd.
For 90-year-old Mary Jenkins of Falls Church, Va., it’s never too late to start protesting.
“I’ve never been to a protest before today,” said Jenkins during Saturday’s protest. “I felt compelled to come down here. A war in Iraq would be immoral; it would be the worst thing since Vietnam. Bush needs to talk things over with Iraq and find a solution.”
” And I’m going to march until it’s over, even if I get pneumonia,” she said.
-Alex Kingsbury and Sarah Levin contributed to this report.