Washington, D.C. -- About three thousand demonstrators marched on the capitol Saturday, protesting the “new war” on terrorism declared by President Bush. Despite a fortified police presence, or perhaps due to it, there were no apparent incidents of violence during the mile-long march down Pennsylvania Avenue from Freedom Plaza to the Capitol Building. The march appeared to be given a cold reception by the residents of the city, who watched the demonstrators pass in silence or heckled them openly with slurs and signs.
A rally at Freedom Plaza near 14th and Pennsylvania Avenue began at 11 o’clock in the morning, and included speakers from several international peace and Muslim rights groups, who are part of the International A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism) coalition that organized the event. The coalition was formed in the wake of the September 11th attacks as an immediate response to the national call for war. While a peaceful solution to the attacks was the main topic of the speeches, a concern over racism and discrimination against Muslims was also a common theme. In regard to racial profiling, Dick Becker of the International Action Center vehemently declared, “We don’t accept it, it is racism, and we will never accept it.” Several other speakers expressed similar sentiments regarding the treatment of Muslims here and abroad.
Originally, a march and protest against the meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank was scheduled for today, until these meetings were indefinitely canceled due to the attacks. (These meetings are tentatively scheduled to take place next April.) The International Action Center in Washington and several other groups then acted quickly to form the A.N.S.W.E.R. coalition and organize this protest.
All did not proceed today as planned, however. The rally was originally supposed to be held in Lafayette Park, the traditional location for gatherings and protests across the street from the White House. The permit for the rally was suddenly revoked by the Secret Service last Tuesday. “There is a 30 day suspension of all permits to hold demonstrations around the White House in effect” said Gail Taylor of the Latin American Solidarity Coalition. She is doubtful as to whether the real cause for this is security, or just bureaucratic discrimination against anti-war gatherings. “Just yesterday my parents and I walked around the White House, and on the sidewalk between the Treasury Department and the White House,” she said, “and today there are guys with crew cuts playing soccer on the Ellipse (located near Lafayette Park).” Taylor also said the Secret Service can renew the suspension of these permits for another thirty day period beyond the one already in effect.
About 3:30 pm demonstrators began marching down Pennsylvania Avenue, with chants, effigies of Bush and other leaders, and signs that read “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”, “Operation Infinite Jackass” and “When elephants fight, the grass suffers”. The march proceeded peacefully until it passed in front of the National Archives, where about fifty war supporters waved their own signs and heckled the demonstrators. A line of about thirty police in riot gear stood between the demonstrators and war supporters, who traded heated shouts and ideological swears for at least a half-hour. “Swim to Cuba” bellowed one supporter, while another waved a sign that read, “Shame on you for disturbing a city in mourning.” No scuffles or violence occurred, however, and the march proceeded without further incident to the Capitol Building.
Simultaneous marches and rallies were held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Rome, as well as other cities.