October 24, 2003

Peace activists expect thousands to march on Saturday

By Ruxandra Giura
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire

WASHINGTON – Peace activists will march around the White House and the Justice Department on Saturday morning to protest the Bush administration’s war agenda, march organizers said Tuesday.

“This Saturday, tens of thousands of people will gather in Washington to demand an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq,” said Leslie Cagan, national coordinator of United for Peace and Justice. “It is time to bring our troops home and end this war.”

United for Peace and Justice and Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) are the two major anti-war coalitions organizing what they claim will be “the largest” anti-war demonstration since President Bush declared combat in Iraq over in May.

Buses from more than 140 cities across the United States will bring protesters to an expected “peaceful march,” Cagan said at a press conference.

Organizers said a peace protest of this size has not been organized since the Vietnam war in 1967 and it should be a sign of the strength of the peace movement.

“Once again, we will march to say, ‘No more!’ I hope this time Washington listens,” said Ismail Kamal, a representative of Muslim Student Association-National.

Anti-war organization representatives said the situation in Iraq is chaotic and U.S. troops must leave and either let an international coalition or an Iraqi administration rebuild the country.

Democratic structures cannot be built while there is military occupation, Cagan said. “They simply don’t go together.”

Brian Becker, a member of ANSWER, said the American Army is not welcome. “We’re not seeing the flowers that Bush and [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld promised,” he said.

Despite Bush’s speech in May, “The war is not over, the mission is not accomplished,” Becker said.

Peace activists will also protest the recent vote in Congress to give $87 billion for the war and reconstruction. Bush has threatened to veto the bill because of amendments reducing some spending and requiring that some of the money be a loan.

Activists demand that Iraq be given money to rebuild but insist that most of the money should be spent on education, health and social welfare at home.

“Every state and city budget in this country is in crisis, and yet money is always available for invasion and occupation,” Cagan said.

Kamal said the economic situation “is miserable. Once again, we’ll march side by side to protest causes that have undermined our well being.”

Peace activists said they will protest the Patriot Act on the eve of its second anniversary because it infringes on civil rights.

Mahdi Bray, representative of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, said that, though he’s concerned about the war in Iraq, he is equally concerned “because there is a war at home, against civil liberties and more particularly, against my community.”

“Over 180 communities have now signed documents and resolutions opposing the Patriot Act,” Bray said.

The Rev. Grayland Hagler, of Washington’s Plymouth Congregational Church, said that one night a member of his church who was a soldier in Iraq and had just returned home called him crying, saying he had been risking his life for a lie.

“We march for the soul of the nation,” Hagler said.

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