President Bush permitted people opposed to the War in Iraq to assemble outside his office and home while he was away for the weekend. An estimated 100,000 demonstrators attended the Sept. 24 rally in Washington, D.C. organized by United for Peace and Justice and Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER).
The rally began at 10 a.m. at the Ellipse between the Washington Monument and the White House, along Constitution Avenue. Speakers included the Rev. Jesse Jackson, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clarke and actress Jessica Lange and parents of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
The organizations offered hundreds of free anti-war signs, stickers and literature to demonstrators and recruited volunteers to collect donations, count attendance and prepare for future events.
Refusing to shoot
A display of crosses with photos and names of the U.S. soldiers who have died in the war was a solemn welcome for demonstrators.
"It was first about weapons of mass destruction, and now it's about spreading democracy," said Vietnam War veteran Steve Schimmel. "But our children are fighting and dying with no clear reason or objective, just as I and my brothers did in Vietnam."
His friends' son was memorialized by one of the crosses, he said.
George Martin of United for Peace and Justice assured the crowd that more were coming.
"We're missing thousands of people right now who are taking the Amtrak trains from New York City, Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore, who've been delayed due to a power-outage at Penn Station since 6 a.m.," he said.
Anti-war organizations from around the nation pitched tents along the march route, including Military Families Speak Out, Not In Our Name, the AFL-CIO, Nurses for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Women in Black, Teachers Against War, American University Students United Against the War and the Cuba-Venezuela Contingent, so demonstrators could swap information and get involved.
Joe Carvalho of Vietnam Veterans Against the War spoke of the irony of seeking peace through war.
"We had on our field jackets, 'Kill for peace,' " he said. "Think of the irony of that and the horrors I saw and committed which never brought peace there (in Vietnam). Now think of the horrors my dead brothers and sisters in Iraq witnessed on their dying day."
Anita Dennis of Kentucky, whose son is stationed in Iraq, read her son's letter about the horrors he witnessed. He wrote that he was ordered to fire upon Iraqi civilians and objected.
"His officer said, 'Next time you're ordered to shoot, you shoot," Dennis said. "I'm calling on people of Congress to impeach Bush for this."
War might sometimes be a necessary evil to stop oppression, Rev. Jesse Jackson said.
"In our quest for peace in the world, there is a time for war to break down the walls of fascism and racism," he said. "The war in Iraq is not such a war."
An international outcry
Peace in Iraq might come through the United Nations, Carvalho said. But that won't happen under the Bush administration, he said.
"Rather than leave Iraq, we need to invoke the assistance of the U.N. to assure the Iraqi people their government will come from them through the help of the world, not set up by an occupying nation," Carvalho said. "I don't think the Bush Administration will do that. During 9/11 the U.S. missed the opportunity to gain peace when the entire world said they all were Americans, but Bush had to say things like, 'Those who don't participate in the war won't reap the spoils.' They won't admit mistakes."
Arab-Americans, Iraqi-Americans and people from other nations also spoke on stage.
George Halloway, vice president of the Stop the War Coalition in the United Kingdom, invited his country and the United States to "stand together against the war and George Bush.
"Show people of the world, especially of the occupied countries, this is not a war of West versus East, this is not a war of Christianity versus Islam and that Bush is not the representative of any civilized nation," Halloway said.
Demonstrators marched toward the White House. Code Pink formed a marching band, with drummers using buckets, bass drums, harmonicas and a trumpet to energize the crowd, which chanted, "Impeach Bush" and "Money for schools, not for war -- bring the troops home." A member of Billionaires for Bush welcomed the demonstrators approaching the White House, standing atop the PNC Bank adjacent to Lafayette Park as his mistress straightened his tie and blew kisses.
For hours demonstrators vented their outrage with the Bush administration in front of the seemingly vacant White House. The Metropolitan Police of Washington, D.C. guarded the White House and Treasury Department building with about 30 officers. Officers were very calm, occasionally warning demonstrators to keep off the barricades blocking the two buildings and allowing hundreds of demonstrators to climb the PNC Bank walls to cheer with the oncoming rally and point their third fingers to the White House.
"I think this will definitely impact the administration, even though they'll probably try to deny it," said Cincinnati activist Barbara Wolf. "It'll definitely sway Democrats in Congress who are so-so with their opinions about the war, and this is coming at a time when other disasters are affecting country that I thought would diminish the numbers here."