A coalition of anti-war groups marched to the White House Monday to mark the eighth anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, but their demonstration was cut short by law enforcement officers on horseback, who forced protesters and press from the sidewalk.
The coalition that led the march included the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance, Peace Action, Veterans for Peace and a number of other interest groups that met at McPherson Square to speak out against war, and specifically the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. The demonstration ended with Park Police arresting more than 60 protesters, according to figures in The Washington Post.
“This week is the beginning of our ninth year of war in Afghanistan,” said Joy First, an organizer of the event with the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance. “What the war is doing is inciting terrorism. We’ve got to bring an end to this war.”
First said the aim of the march to the White House was to personally deliver a letter to President Obama that asked him to end the war – an objective she said before the march might result in a number of arrests.
“A number of us will be risking arrest,” First said. “We’re not going there because we wanted to get arrested, but we do know that it’s possible that the police may choose to arrest us because we will be in areas where it is supposedly illegal to be in.”
GW alumnus David Barrows, who graduated in 1972, was one of the many protesters arrested who were wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods, representing prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Barrows said he was prepared to break the law as part of the protest by remaining on the sidewalk after Park officials told the group to disperse.
“We call it civil resistance to put ourselves on the line,” Barrows said before his arrest. “We’re not breaking the law because we are supporting the highest laws of the land. We need to be vigilant and make sure our government obeys the law and doesn’t do things in secret behind our backs, as it has done with the practice of torture.”
Barrows said his experiences as an undergraduate at GW changed his political views and inspired him to be more politically active. He recounted one particular instance in which he said GW students were mistreated by police while demonstrating.
“I saw a march to the Watergate and the same police that beat up those demonstrators went into Madison Hall and dragged a couple people into the lobby and beat them up,” Barrows said.
After a series of speeches, songs and poem recitations by members of the coalition, the group assembled in a single-file line and began its march down Vermont Avenue. About an hour after the protest began, a Park official warned protesters to step back from the sidewalk while a dozen protesters chained themselves to the fence. About 30 minutes later, Park Police placed caution tape around the area in the center sidewalk in front of the White House and arrested the scores of protestors.
GW senior Anna Woodbury, an intern with the Washington Peace Center who participated in the protest, was visibly moved during the demonstration.
“Seeing the veterans here, people who have actually been in war, that they support war no more than I do is an emotional thing,” she said.