Tens of thousands of demonstrators swarmed the city over the weekend to speak out against both the war in Iraq and the biannual International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings.
The anti-war protest, which took place on the Ellipse Saturday, was reportedly the largest demonstration in the nation’s capital since the conflict in Iraq began, while the IMF/World Bank demonstration only brought out a handful of participants outside the buildings throughout the weekend.
The anti-war rally, coordinated by International ANSWER, an activist group formed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, took place from a stage 300 yards behind the White House. The speeches were followed by a march through the surrounding streets and ended in front of the White House.
Caneisha Mills, an ANSWER spokeswoman, said she is trying to convey the message that “9/11 was manipulated by the Bush administration to start the war.” However, she said her organization’s goal is not to change the administration’s mind but “to create change within the nation.”
More than 50 news organizations including Fox News and C-Span were at the event Saturday to cover speakers such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.), former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and British Parliament member George Galloway.
Jackson began his speech by acknowledging that there are times when war is appropriate, but that this time, the Bush administration has gotten it wrong.
“Wars on morals, not national interests, are worth fighting, but the war in Iraq is not one of these wars,” he said.
Galloway came across the Atlantic to speak out against the war in Iraq and acknowledge the 100,000 Londoners conducting a similar demonstration.
“There’s an absolute need for our countries to stand shoulder to shoulder against criminals – Tony Blair and George W. Bush,” he said.
Cindy Sheehan, who famously protested in front of the president’s Crawford, Texas, ranch over the summer, demonstrated before White House gates and demanded to meet with Bush about her son’s death in Iraq. She said the anti-war movement would not end until every last one of the troops was back.
“We need a people’s movement to end this war. The media and our friends in Congress aren’t doing their jobs, and Bush certainly isn’t doing his job,” she said before turning to the White House and shouting, “We mean business George Bush.”
Most demonstrators had homemade signs featuring a number of slogans such as “Honk to impeach,” “No blood for oil,” “Make coherent sentences, not war,” and “Wake up America and smell the treason.” Protesters initiated chants throughout the rally and shouted phrases such as “No more war”
People at the protest donned a variety of costumes including a group dressed as Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice dressed in orange jumpsuits and shackles. Mills said that she also expected a large number of student protesters.
GW freshman Laura Gross, a member of the College Democrats, attended Saturday’s antiwar protest and thought that it was a great outlet for different groups to come together for a common cause.
“It went well and accomplished its goal,” she said.
While Bush, who was in Colorado monitoring Hurricane Rita, could not hear the screams of demonstrators in his backyard, ANSWER coordinator Brian Becker said he was sure the president was watching the event.
Counter-protesters also congregated on the streets surrounding the Ellipse, saying they support the troops and the president. GW College Republicans filled a street corner and engaged in debates with the demonstrators.
College Republican chairman Jeff Holth said the group was there to “support the troops,” while political director Gary Livacari called it an “admirable counter-defense.”
Protesters, however, were not the only people congregating at the weekend’s events. The National Lawyer’s Guild dispatched hundreds of legal observers to the mass demonstrations.
Easily visible in their bright yellow hats, the legal observers are on hand at many demonstrations to ensure that police or protesters do not violate peoples’ civil liberties. Due to the volume of the antiwar protest, the Guild mobilized its attorneys from all over the country but recorded no police misconduct or violence throughout the day.
Metropolitan Police Officer Quintin Peterson, of the department’s Public Information Office, said the both the antiwar protest and IMF demonstrations went smoothly. Peterson said there were three arrests: two for destruction of property and one for disorderly conduct, all at 3:30 p.m. during the antiwar protest along 10th Street.
He said, “The events were peaceful for being such a large population of demonstrators.”