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News ::
500 Rally for Peace with Iraq on MLK Day, Following National Weekend of Protests (english)
20 Jan 2003
Modified: 05 Feb 2003
On Martin Luther King Day in front of Cambridge City Hall, 500 people rallied for peace. This protest against the Bush administration’s plans to go to war with Iraq was not isolated, but part of a nationwide and worldwide weekend of peace rallies. This particular rally sought to remind people of the connections King had made between racism, militarism and materialism.
500 Rally for Peace with Iraq on MLK Day, Following a Nationwide Weekend of Protest
by Matthew Williams

Jan. 20, 2003; Cambridge, MA—The peace rally was supposed to just take place in front of Cambridge City Hall, but when 500 people showed up in the biting cold it spilled both across and far down the street. This protest against the Bush administration’s plans to go to war with Iraq was not isolated, but part of a nationwide and worldwide weekend of peace rallies. Protests took place in such cities as Tokyo and London internationally; national protests in both Washington DC and San Francisco on Saturday the 18th drew hundreds of thousands. Local rallies in various parts of the Boston metro area that same day drew a total of 600 people. This Monday rally, organized by the Cambridge Peace Commission and United for Justice with Peace, took place on Martin Luther King Day, seeking to remind people of the connections King had made between racism, militarism and materialism.

When I showed up at 2:50, ten minutes before the rally was supposed to start, there were already 100 people there, making me wonder if I’d gotten the time wrong. I had been expecting a run of the mill thirty-person peace vigil and this was far larger. The number of people who came, as well as the large protests this past weekend, shows the growing degree of opposition to the Bush administration’s war plans. The many cars honking their horns in support—a large number even for a liberal city like Cambridge—was another sign of how support for the peace movement is growing; at some points, lines of people waiting for the traffic light to change just sat there honking their horns in support the entire time.

John McLeod, who has traveled to Iraq, explained why he opposes the war: “The war will be a disaster for the Iraqi people. They will bear the brunt of it and they’ll bear the brunt of the US occupation that might happen after the war. The US military’s so-called precision weapons turn out not to be very precise in the sort of targets they’re going to go after. It will be urban warfare. Martin Luther King said, ‘We have guided missiles and misguided men,’ and I think that’s the situation with this proposed war.” McLeod also referred to the first Gulf War in 1991, in which the US military bombed numerous civilian targets, including bridges, roads, hospitals, electrical generations plants, sewage plants, and other basic elements of the civilian infrastructure. Because of sanctions, the country has not been able to import the material it needs to rebuild and remains devastated from the war twelve years ago.

Frances Jarvis, the Chairperson of the Cambridge Peace Commission, thinks that the publicly stated reasons for the war have very little to do with the actual ones: “To me, this is an attempt to overthrow someone to achieve economic ends, i.e. to control the oil of that region, which does not belong to us. We don’t have the right to reject international law and target one person. Listen, nobody likes Saddam Hussein. He’s an evil person. But if we follow international law and allow weapons inspectors to do their job, it will work out, even if it takes a long time. People in this country are used to solving problems in a very quick and haphazard way but that doesn’t bring peace to anybody.”

Although he is now typically depicted as being nothing more than a civil rights leader, King’s concerns were wider. He supported organized labor and opposed the Vietnam War. In his speeches against the Vietnam War, King said that racism, extreme materialism and militarism are all interrelated. Jarvis said of the connections between racism and militarism, “The way the war in Iraq is being framed, as an African-American woman, I hear things that I think are very racist in nature. I think the sanctions are racist and genocidal. The way the sanctions are being used against the people of Iraq—food and medicine are being denied the people—and then US government officials say, ‘Saddam is denying the people these things.’ They always turn it into Saddam Hussein. It’s a country of twenty-two million people. I think there’s a racial component to that.”

By conservative estimates, the sanctions have killed 300,000 children under five; other estimates run as high as one million dead from sanctions. Although the Iraqi government can import food and medicine under the oil-for-food program, it cannot import enough to meet the whole population’s needs, leading to many deaths from malnutrition and easily treated diseases. UN relief workers have said that, given Iraq’s shattered infrastructure, the government is doing an excellent job of distributing rations US government accusations notwithstanding.

Amatul, the director of Dagger, a queer women’s street theater troupe, only partially agreed about the connections between racism and militarism, saying that while, “It’s usually the black soldier or the Latino soldier or the small Asian village being burned up in the front lines. Some of this is beyond race though. Now it’s just getting into who are the poor and who are the wealthy of the human race. There’s a class of white people who are not white to the superwealthy.”

On the connection between material and militarism, Jarvis said, “I think they’re waging this war to maintain the raging materialism this country has, such driving cars that are environmentally unsound, i.e. SUVs. It’s a lifestyle that’s killing the earth.”

Amatual pointed out, “Even the cars honking for peace are burning a lot of oil. We’re trapped in a fossil fuel economy. Unless people are willing to make some serious sacrifices of American wealth, I don’t know how we’re going to change this. We have to think about and re-evaluate the way we live. If we’re willing to make some sacrifices in our comfort and our wealth, that gives me hope.”

People at the rally held a wide variety of signs. The most common were small placards reading, “I’m standing with Martin for peace.” One group of people (full disclosure: including myself) stood by the road, holding a banner, reading, “Let Iraq Live.” One man carried a sign with an American flag attached to it, reading, “Support Our Troops—Bring Them Home.” Some people walked the picket lines in silence or conversing, others chanted, while still others sang.

Despite the growing opposition to the war, polls show most Americans would still be willing to support a war, at least under the right circumstances (UN support, low civilian casualties, low American casualties, etc.). McLeod said that he thinks most Americans who support wars do so, unlike the elite, out of a “well intentioned imperialism.” “Americans are very ready to accept that it’s our job to police the world without questioning the motives of the elite.”

As for the elite’s actual motives, McLeod asked, “Why do we have such a huge military-industrial complex? The United States is like a lobster with one giant claw as long as the whole lobster, unlike the rest of the world where the military forces are smaller in proportion. It’s very suspicious that a country with this giant lobster claw of military force is claiming to be motivated by democracy. Isn’t it more likely that this tool—all this high tech weaponry and the whole military—is really in the service of the so-called national interest, which means the service of big corporations?”

After an hour in the mid-January cold, most of the people at the rally went into a nearby church to hear excerpts from one of King’s anti-war speeches read. Both this reading and the pace rally were part of reclaiming an element of King’s legacy that the elite, for all the lip-service that pay to him, would just as soon we all forget.

****

To get involved with Boston-area peace organizing, get in touch with United with Justice for Peace at http://www.unitedforjusticewithpeace.org. For more information on this weekend’s national and worldwide peace demonstrations, see the Global IMC site at http://www.indymedia.org. For more information on the issues, see ZNet’s Iraq Crisis Page (http://www.zmag.org/CrisesCurEvts/Iraq/IraqCrisis.htm), the Iraq Action Coalition (http://iraqaction.org/), and the Middle East Research and Information Project (http://www.merip.org).
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Comments

sick of the war (english)
05 Feb 2003
In Bristol (and some pockets of the US who have picked up the idea) there is a 'sick of the war' movement building.
The basic idea is that with many people on temp contracts etc we can't expect people to call a strike. What we do have is the right to call in sick.
"sorry boss i turned on the radio, heard about all the death and felt physically sick- it's just got worse all day"
This free's people up for a day of civil disobedience without laying their job's on the line, and the economic system takes an (admittedly small) dent to profits.
If you will help publicise this idea/meme it could be the start of somthing big.