NEW YORK -Thousands of protesters marched through Manhattan Saturday, calling for the withdrawal of foreign armies from Iraq a year after American-led troops invaded the country.
The rally and march were organized by ANSWER – Act Now to Stop War and End Racism – and United for Peace and Justice as part of a global day of action against the U.S. post-war occupation of Iraq.
Activists carrying signs reading, “Bush to Mars” and “Repent America,” gathered on Madison Avenue in a peaceful protest that mirrored smaller demonstrations in cities across the world.
Several politicians, including Rep. Dennis Kucinich, spoke at the rally, and criticized the George W. Bush administration for allegedly inflating the threats posed by Iraq.
Critics have pointed to the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as evidence that Bush – who said Iraq’s possession of biological and chemical weapons was a danger to Americans’ security – misled the country.
“We’ve seen that there has been nothing but a trail of lies that led the United States into its involvement in Iraq,” said Kucinich, a former Democratic presidential candidate who was one of the war’s most outspoken opponents.
Following the midtown rally, about 30,000 protestors marched up the Avenue of the Americas to 40th Street, and back down to the rally’s starting point on Madison Avenue and 23rd Street.
“I’m here because of the overwhelming deceit of the administration and the unbelievable lying that is going on,” said Adam Esriz a New York resident who carried a homemade sign that said “Bush is the bomb yo,” as he marched beside his younger sister.
Amidst chants of “Bush! Bin-Laden! They’ve been plotting!” New York native Tamara Damon said that the rally was still important despite the capture of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the United States’ efforts to foster democracy in the Middle East country.
“A lot of people are still dying and we’re destroying a country,” said Damon, who added, “I think it’s really important that people don’t go quiet.”
Monica Greaves, of Connecticut, was carrying a sign reading “Free Palestine,” and said the protest was not just about the events in Iraq.
“I think when people protest for one occupied country it is for all occupied countries,” said Greaves, referring to the Palestinian struggle for independence in Israeli-controlled territories.
In interviews before the protest, organizers said they hoped to draw attention to the invasion by holding a demonstration exactly a year after hostilities began in Iraq.
“Well, this date was chosen by George W. Bush and the war mongers in the Pentagon,” said Dustin Langley, media coordinator for ANSWER.
Langley said that the number of protesters was expected to be in the tens of thousands, and that at least thirty busloads of activists would be coming to the rally and march, which he said would be peaceful.
“We’re not anticipating any problems,” he said.
City officials reported no arrests during the protest, a trend among demonstrations against the invasion and subsequent invasion of Iraq. Recent protests against the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, however, have resulted in hundreds of arrests.
Lt. Gene White, a media liaison in the New York City Police Department, said city officials met with protest organizers and were adequately prepared for the demonstration.
“Its not unusual to have a large demonstration like this,” said White in an interview several days before the rally.