Posted 2:25p.m. Feb. 27
by Alex Kingsbury
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
The headquarters of the International ANSWER coalition is in a dilapidated row house in a bad part of Washington, D.C. The sleet was just beginning to fall as the office opened, what was the beginning of the blizzard of 2003 — one of the largest snowstorms to hit the nation’s capital.
Demonstrators slept in the basement waiting for a chartered early morning bus to New York City, for the American component of a world-wide demonstration against a possible war with Iraq. U-WIRE traveled to the demonstrations with the Washington contingent to experience the protests from the other side of the picket signs.
International ANSWER, Act now to Stop War and Racism, is a far left activist group the helps coordinate many anti-war demonstrations in Washington and around the country. ANSWER was one of numerous groups in “United for Peace” which organized the New York demonstrations.
The District headquarters of the coalition is filled with literature, stacks of videos claiming to present the “real truth” of US intervention in Latin America, socialist styled graphics and posters advertising upcoming protest “actions.” The office was staffed by weary looking activists, bleary eyed at 4:30 a.m., as those who paid their $20 or $30 for a bus ticket began to arrive. The 47 bus seats are all reserved and paid for, yet the weather was blamed for the poor turnout, as only about 20 protesters actually make the trip.
A teacher from the District, several students, and a community leader — all eager to voice their decent on the potential war. The activists are abuzz on the journey — the virtue of their cause, the abominations of the Bush administration, stories of demonstrations past, the pro-war bias of the media, and the expected numbers of the days events. Estimates stretched into the millions.
The bus ride to New York is long, delayed by the snow that is falling through parts of Pennsylvania and Delaware, and by late morning the bus arrived at Shea Stadium, the staging ground for the demonstrations. An arctic cold front forced the temperature into the teens and the wind blew clouds of sand and salt from the stadium lots against the line of thousands waiting to board the number 7 train into Manhattan. The masses of huddled demonstrators tucked their hands into their jackets against the cold, clinging to signs and banners decrying a potential war in the deserts of the Middle East.
A federal judge ruled that the demonstrators could not march through the city, but did permit protesters to gather on First Avenue. Organizers called for up to 350,000 to converge on the city, though police totals eventually pegged the day long total at around 100,000. The protesters overwhelmed the police lines attempting to contain them, and spread to Second Avenue and the connecting side streets. Officers in riot gear attempting to control the surging pacifist crowd had a few minor scuffles as demonstrators pushed down police blockades chanting — “Whose streets? Our streets.”
Rumors were rampant among the demonstrators; “the cops have used tear gas up on Second Avenue”, “Colin Powell is going to come out and speak to us” and “there are so many people here that they have shut down the trains into Manhattan.” All false, though seeming to give hope to the demonstrators brazing the bitter wind and cold to address an administration they say is unresponsive to calls for a peaceful resolution in the international crisis.
The demonstrators heard from speakers including Martin Luther King III all calling for a pre-emptive end to a pre-emptive war in Iraq. The crowd was a rich cornucopia of interesting characters — from grandmothers against war, to the self-christened Captain Code Red — clad in plastic and duct tape perhaps an overreaction to the government’s advise for terrorist preparations.
When the speakers concluded the crowd moved to Times Square, where they rallied under the news ticker announcing the extent of the worldwide movement; Paris, Rome, London, Los Angeles, Cairo, New York City.
Rome boasted the largest turnout with 1 million, and the London police called the 750,000 that took to the streets of the British capital the largest demonstration the city had ever seen. Demonstrating against a war that seems increasingly imminent, the crowds took solace in the world support, chanting, “the whole world is watching and they’re on our side” and “join us, join us.”
In front of the public library on 5th Avenue and West 39th Street, a crowd of around 300 protesters staged a sit-down strike blocking traffic and defying police orders to move. Linking arms, the demonstrators were carted off by police making peace signs with their hands, to the cheers of their fellow activists.
When the bus returned to Washington Dave, the group leader on the bus, announced the more than 320 people had bee arrested and denied representation. Police reported 250 arrests, most of whom were released with small fines and summons.
As the ANSWER contingent returned to their office, plans were already being made for a demonstration on March 1 at the White House, organizers called the potential “day the bombs start falling.”