Column: The audible voice of dissent

Yeah, it was cold. My hands were frigid and my teeth were clattering. Lucky for us the snow decided to hide until Sunday and at 6 a.m. I exited a bus in New York City to participate in the largest global peace demonstration since the Vietnam War. After weeks of hype and anticipation, a little exhaustion and heavy winds were not enough to deter me from this massive expression of political dissent.

Rumors were floating around activist Internet circles. Would it be as big as two weeks earlier, when two hundred thousand demonstrators gathered on the National Mall against a preemptive war in Iraq? Today, even by conservative estimates from The New York Times, over four hundred thousand protesters rallied on the East Side of Manhattan, marching, chanting and listening to speakers. Undeterred by rumors of security risks, scores of GW students made the trek and participated.

The rally in New York was organized by a diverse coalition that operated under the banner “United For Peace,” bringing together veterans, labor groups, feminists, people of faith and environmental groups. It was put together in only a few short weeks and was largely coordinated via the Internet after prominent antiwar groups in Europe declared that Feb. 15 would be a day of global resistance against the war.

Across Europe it is estimated that over eight million people demonstrated against the United States and a preemptive attack on Iraq Saturday. Most symbolically, the two largest demonstrations occurred in London and Italy, two countries with leadership that has strongly supported President Bush. The march in London’s Hyde Park was declared the largest that the United Kingdom has ever seen, and in Italy over one million Italians took to the streets in cities across the country.

Within countries like France and Germany, which have publicly supported a more cautious approach and advocate a multilateral approach led by the United Nations, millions more participated in massive anti-war demonstrations. Even in Tel Aviv, Jews and Arabs marched together in the thousands against a possible war in Iraq.

In the United States, besides the New York protests, there was a 100,000-person demonstration against the war in San Francisco, with 7,000 protesters in Chicago, 5,000 in Houston and 7,000 in Sacramento. Thousands more rallied in San Jose, Minnesota, Oregon and Detroit.

The size and scope of these demonstrations should forever dispel the myths that Bush is enjoying either widespread domestic or international support. Despite recent polls that show Americans would still support the President should we go to war, widespread criticism and skepticism is permeating the American mainstream. Part of this divide is due to the Democratic Party’s continuous inability to mount a unified argument that at least encourages President Bush to take a more cautious approach. This leaves a huge void of needed debate on the topic of war within our political process.

A large indication of this mounting opposition is the passage of anti-war resolutions by city councils and municipalities around the country including Takoma Park in Maryland, Northampton, Massachusetts, and the Baltimore City Council, among many others. Another indication is the diversity of the participants that I saw at the New York demonstration. It is no longer surprising to see signs at rallies proclaiming, “Republicans Against a War in Iraq,” “Conservatives for Peace” and “Christians for Peace in Iraq.” These signs stand amid a mosaic of families with their children, elderly Americans rallying from wheelchairs and walkers and veterans proudly dressed in uniform carrying the American Flag.

Before the large rally, more than one thousand trade unionists gathered under the banner “U.S. Labor Against the War.” Representing a smorgasbord of working people, the largest contingent was hundreds of hospital workers representing Service Employees International Union Local 1199.

Michael Letwin, a member of the New York City Labor Against War organization, declared from the rally stage, “Workers, I think, in particular know that it’s working people and poor people at home who are going to pay for the war. They’ll pay for it with their children in uniform, being the ones that die on the front lines. They’ll pay for it in terms of cuts in our social services and all the government spending that could go to union services at home but are going to war instead.”

In addition to the GW crew, thousands of students from middle schools, high schools and colleges all over the country gathered to protest a possible war with Iraq, many protesting for the first time. This demonstration comes days after students at Hunter College in New York occupied their president’s office demanding that he take a strong stand in opposition to war with Iraq and upcoming tuition hikes in the State University of New York system.

In addition, anti-war resolutions have already been passed by a number of student governments at many universities, including Reed College, the University of Maryland, Ohio University and the University of Rhode Island.

Watching the news that evening, I noticed that once again the media refused to depict a view of the protests that fairly demonstrates the diversity of races, ages and ideas encapsulated in these rallies – again marginalizing their effort. Often by merely focusing on covering those on the fringes, the news media gives an unfair and diluted glimmer of the extraordinary resolve that so many of these Americans exert. They find a political voice through unifying together.

Standing tall among fellow Americans made me feel that I was no longer powerless in preventing this war. That alone I would not necessarily be heard, but by uniting with like-minded individuals we might change the hearts and minds of other Americans and inspire them to question the motives of our current leadership and some of the long-term impacts of such a war.

I pray that, at the very least, by doing this work, whether it stops the war or not, I won’t have to someday face my children with fear and sadness when they ask, “Daddy, what were you doing when so many Americans and Iraqis needlessly lost their lives?” At least in a very small way I will be able to say, “I tried to stop it.”

-The writer, a graduate student in the School of Political Management, is a Hatchet columnist

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