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News ::
Rallies for Peace Held Along Mass. Ave., from Dorchester to Lexington (english)
15 Mar 2003
Modified: 19 Mar 2003
Peace rallies were held at fourteen major intersections along Massachusetts Avenue—from Dorchester to Lexington—on March 15. The one at Porter Square had approximately 500 people. The protests were held along Mass. Ave. not only to call attention to the way the war is draining valuable resources from our communities as the economy continues to decline.
Rallies for Peace Held Along Mass. Ave., from Dorchester to Lexington
by Matthew Williams

Cambridge & Somerville MA; 03/15/03—Peace rallies were held at fourteen major intersections along Massachusetts Avenue—from Dorchester to Lexington—from 10:00 am to noon today. The one I attended at Porter Square had approximately five hundred people strung out along seven blocks. We were passed by two hundred bikers with Bikes Not Bombs and a three hundred person student peace march. (Unfortunately, I was not able to get numbers for the rallies held in other locations, but if they were remotely comparable, there were at least a few thousand people.) The protests were held along Mass. Ave. not only to call attention to the widespread opposition to the war, but also to the way it is draining valuable resources from our communities as the economy continues to decline. The protests were part of a wider series of protests being held all weekend in Boston and around the country and world, ranging from candle-lit vigils to nonviolent direct action.

The activists in Porter Square disagreed with the reasons the Bush administration has given for going to war. On the question of the threat posed by Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Chance Kungatsering of Somerville-Medford United for Justice with Peace (SMUJP) defended the weapons inspection process: “As I read the Blix report, Hussein hasn’t been cooperating one hundred percent. Blix and the inspectors are saying that in general cooperation has been mixed. But what you is a process and weapons are being destroyed—the Al-Samoud missiles were found that were determined to be in violation of Iraq’s responsibilities according to the UN resolutions. Iraq contested it but the UN insisted those missiles be destroyed and they were indeed destroyed. So I think what you see happening there is inspections working. There’s a lack of understanding that inspections don’t just mean making a check list and seeing what they have.”

The US government has frequently interfered with the weapons inspections process in the past, to the point where many believe that they have been trying to sabotage it. The US used the first weapons inspection team, UNSCOM, for espionage purposes, undermining the security of the Iraqi government. The Clinton administration ordered the inspectors out in December 1998 (even though the inspectors are supposed to report to the whole Security Council, not just the US) in order to bomb Iraq on the same day that UNSCOM was presenting its progress report, knowing that this would likely mean that Iraq would not readily agree to the return of the inspectors.

Anna, also of SMUJP, pointed to the hypocrisy of focusing on Iraq’s WMD: “The United States has a lot of weapons of mass destruction. As long as the inspectors are there, Hussein’s not going to go anywhere with the ones he has. There’s a lot of other countries that have weapons of mass destruction.” The UN resolution under which Iraq is required to destroy its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs, also calls for making the entire Middle East a WMD-free zone. This should extend to Israel, the only country in the region with nuclear weapons, but Israel has not been targeting, despite its violation of numerous UN resolutions through its continued occupation of Palestine. The US also has large stockpiles of WMD, which the US government has barred international inspectors from.

Nor did the activists take the idea that a US war would bring democracy to Iraq seriously. Anna said, “I have never known that democracy can be imposed. Democracy is something that has to grow from inside and if they mean democracy where people really have input in what’s going on, it doesn’t make any sense unless we have democracy here at home, which right now we’re loosing a lot.” In addition to aggressively pushing for the war, the Bush administration has used the USA PATRIOT Act to undermine the civil liberties supposedly guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, expanding its abilities to spy on citizens engaging in legitimate forms of dissent. The Bush administration has also been unresponsive to popular opinion, pushing ahead with the war despite growing public unease and opposition.

Kungatsering argued that the real reasons for war have nothing to do with democracy: “I believe that the argument that we’re going to war to bring democracy to Iraq is a sales pitch as opposed to the actual rationale for war. I think the rationale for war has a lot more to do with getting control of Iraq’s oil reserves and projecting US military power, like setting up US military bases in that area, which we don’t have right now. [. . .] The president and the vice president are oil barons. Clearly, this is a very oil-centric and in general energy-centric administration. That’s whose interests they are serving. You look at Iraq and Iraq is in possession of two-thirds of the world’s undeveloped oil reserves. So it’s a very, very precious resource to these men. I think that’s what’s driving this war effort.”

Although the crowd was predominantly white, there was a diverse range of ages—from small children to gray-haired elders. Many of the signs were very creative, such as “Stop Mad Cowboy Disease,” “Who Would Jesus Bomb?” and “Axis of Sanity = France, Germany, Russia, etc.” Many of the passing cars—perhaps a quarter—honked in support. A few people either stopped to argue civilly or just shouted abusively, in some cases at children.

Kungatsering explained the importance of such public visibility for building the peace movement: “There’s a lot of people here and we’re in a very public place—Porter Square on a Saturday morning where there’s lots of shoppers and lots of traffic. People who don’t necessarily understand how widespread the opposition to this war is, just driving by and seeing all these people here, may feel a little less isolated. I have the sense that a lot of folks are questioning this war and when they see their fellow citizens out here protesting it, it makes them feel like they’re not so alone.”

Many would argue that in many ways the US has already been at war with Iraq for the last thirteen years. The 1991 Gulf War devastated Iraq’s infrastructure, as the US military deliberately destroyed such civilian targets as power plants, roads, hospitals, factories, sewage treatment plants, etc. The sanctions have prevented the Iraqi government from importing the necessary spare parts to repair these things. As a result, the Iraq economy remains a shambles, suffering from massive unemployment and hyperinflation. Most people are dependent on the government food rations provided through the oil-for-food program. Over 500,000 children under five have been killed by the sanctions, mainly through malnutrition or easily treated diseases because the necessary medicines cannot be imported.

Anna explained the war might devastate the US as well as Iraq: “From an economic standpoint, this country is being put in harm’s way. There is no terrorism like poverty. We have so much poverty in this country. In Massachusetts, for example, the job readiness training program for people on welfare has been cut. So as the economic resources are put into the destruction of someone else’s country, it’s also deteriorating here.”

At noon, many of the activists marched from Porter Square to the Cambridge Common, where the joined some of the people who had lined other intersections for a rally. Along the march, a group of middle school children chanted, “Let Iraq be! We don’t want World War III!” Passing cars continued to honk in support. At the half-hour rally on the Common, the guests of honor were the middle and high school students who had been organizing against the war. Three students were loudly applauded for saying they had been suspended for taking part in the walk-out against the war on March 5. It’s not often a three-day suspension earns such acclamation.

Kungatsering remains optimistic, despite the Bush administration’s seemingly unrelenting drive to war: “The peace movement is a worldwide peace movement—it has a lot of momentum and I don’t think it’s going to stop and I don’t think everybody’s just going to throw up their hands if the US and British governments go ahead and ignore public opinion and wage this war anyway. I think you’ll see continued resistance.”

****

For more information on United for Justice with Peace, the Boston-area peace coalition, see . For more information on Iraq, see the Iraq Action Coalition and ZNet’s Iraq page .
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Comments

A more accurate bicycle count (english)
16 Mar 2003
Great report! Thanks.

I just want to give everyone an accurate count of cyclists who were participating in the Dorchester to Lexington bike ride for peace. At Porter there were 85 people on bikes, and there were probably another 30-50 who rode for smaller sections of the 17 mile (one way) ride.

For the first time in a long time, a group of cyclists actually got lots of friendly horn tooting from motorists! You know the peace movement is strong when people driving 8 mpg Dodge Durangos are honestly happy to see a pack of cyclists in the street!

We even made it onto the front page of the Sunday Boston Globe.
See also:
http://www.massbike.org
on the numbers (english)
16 Mar 2003
Thanks for the revised bicycle count. I confess, crowd estimates are not my strong point--especially when the crowd is rapidly moving.
shots from Saturday of Central and MIT bridge (english)
17 Mar 2003
Nothing fancy, just some shots of Central Square and an arrest on the MIT bridge for blocking traffic. I saw plenty of cameras out there that day... anyone else got stuff to share?