September 24: Largest Protest Since the Beginning of the Iraq War

the largest U.S. protest since the beginning of the Iraq war, 200,000
people took to the streets of Washington, DC on September 24 to
demand an end to the war and the safe return of U.S. troops. 

There were also four days of numerous colorful and diverse events
that included guerrilla theater, rallies, an Operation Ceasefire
concert, a peace and justice festival, congressional visits, a tribunal
on Haiti, an Interfaith Religious service, direct action, and civil
disobedience in front of the White House where 370 were arrested,
including Gold Star Mother Cindy Sheehan. Sheehan captured the media’s
attention in August when she set up Camp Casey outside President
Bush’s Crawford, Texas ranch demanding to know why the U.S.
was at war with Iraq. Named after her son who was killed in Iraq,
Camp Casey helped rejuvenate an antiwar movement experiencing growing

The antiwar events occurred at the same time as the annual meetings
of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Global justice
activists used this overlap to point out the connections between
the Iraq War, U.S. imperialism, and economic globalization. On September
22, the DC-based Mobilization for Global Justice staged guerrilla
theater in front of the World Bank. The media stunt enacted the
wedding of the World Bank to the Pentagon, with World Bank President
and Iraq War architect Paul Wolfowitz (Church of Market Fundamentalism)
presiding over the ceremony.

Another item on the World Bank agenda was global warming. This led
to a call for global warming activists to converge at Saturday’s
march to draw the connections between the Iraq war for oil, the
World Bank, and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Climatologists overwhelmingly
agree warmer Gulf waters, the result of global warming, significantly
strengthened these hurricanes. The World Bank has helped exacerbate
global warming by investing over $28 billion in fossil fuels since
1992. Another link between the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina was
the accusation that the lack of National Guardspeople and their
equipment—deployed to Iraq—was part of the reason for
the disastrously slow response to the hurricane victims. 

While the major antiwar rally was taking place at the Ellipse Saturday,
a smaller 3,000 person global justice rally organized by the Mobilization
for Global Justice was held at Dupont Circle. Speakers at the global
justice rally included South African anti-apartheid activist and
poet Dennis Brutus, as well as global justice activists from the
Dominican Republic, India, and around the world, who made the connections
between military and economic domination and ecological destruction.
The global justice rally culminated with an un-permitted “feeder”
march with the chants of “Whose streets? Our streets,”
passing the World Bank before it joined the anti-war march. 

The major antiwar rally included such speakers as the Reverend Jesse
Jackson, Cindy Sheehan, South African anti-privatization activist
Virginia Setshedi, former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, among many
others. The crowd was energized with chants including, “Bring
the troops home now” and “Free Free Palestine.”  Afterwards
hundreds of thousands took to the streets. In other cities across
the U.S., as well as in London and Rome, thousands of people came
out against the war in solidarity with the Washington, DC march
and rally.

Following the march, participants gathered on the Mall adjacent
to the Washington Monument for the Operation Ceasefire free concert
featuring such performers as Joan Baez who moved the crowd with
her rendition of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna
Fall.” Steve Earle and dozens more also performed. Next to
Operation Ceasefire, a peace and justice festival brought antiwar,
global justice, and global warming organizations together under
circus tents to distribute information, buttons, and T-shirts to
participants. Also present were a giant inflatable Pinocchio George
Bush and a huge earth being sucked dry by a mosquito, with a sign
on it pointing out the rise in deadly diseases transmitted by mosquitoes
that is predicted to accompany the global warming trend. 

The following day affinity groups blockaded intersections and traffic
around a hotel where World Bank and IMF delegates were staying,
effectively delaying the start of their meetings for over 30 minutes.
While the action was small, it was notable as the first direct action
to blockade the World Bank and IMF meetings in DC since the massive
A-16 (April 16) protests of 2000 where tens of thousands of activists
converged on the city to block strategic intersections and impede
the movement of delegates. 

On Monday, September 26, thousands of antiwar protesters remaining
in DC marched to Lafayette Park across from the White House for
mass non-violent civil disobedience. In the symbolic protest, 370
people sat down on the sidewalk in front of the White House in protest
of the Iraq War, refused police orders to move, and were arrested.
Among those arrested were members of United for Peace and Justice
and Code Pink, and Cindy Sheehan.

The mass action began with Sheehan approaching the guard shack at
the entrance to the White House where she demanded once more to
have a meeting with the president. When she was refused, she and
her supporters marched 50 yards or so to the front of the White
House. There she attached a photo of her son Casey to the White
House gates. She spent a few moments with the photo, tenderly touching
it before turning around to stage a sit in on the sidewalk. The
police signaled their intention to make arrests by pushing all non-arrestees
behind a metal barricade and bringing in paddy wagons to block the
view of onlookers. This sent the media into a flurry of competition
for the best view of the impending arrest of Sheehan, who was the
first to be carried off. 

The area across from the White House was jammed with diverse supporters
of the mass civil disobedience. From Breasts Not Bombs and anti-depleted
uranium activists to Buddhist Monks, the protest took on an empowered
atmosphere. One woman, however, broke down, grief stricken over
the war, and was comforted by others. 

Earlier in the day, in a separate pre-dawn civil disobedience action,
41 people were arrested at a pedestrian entrance to the Pentagon.
After arrestees were released some showed up later at the White
House event where a few were arrested for the second time that day.
Also on Monday, more than 800 people visited over 300 Congressional
offices in a Lobby Day organized by UFPJ.

Leslie Cagan, National Coordinator for UFPJ, stated after the DC
protests, “The September mobilization sent a strong message
to policymakers and helped take this movement into a new phase of
mass action, using diverse tactics, as we plan for the work still
to be done to end the war and bring our troops home.”

Langelle and Anne Petermann are photojournalists and activists with
the Global Justice Ecology Project.