Saturday, March 20, 2004. On the first year anniversary of the Bush-Cheney’s Gang’s launch of its pre-emptive military strike against Iraq, the streets of New York City were filled with outraged protesters. They were chanting, singing, shouting and carrying colorful signs. One banner which read, “Bush Liar,” said it all. It was a massive display of righteous dissent by citizens against the lawlessness of a regime, whose hubris has already taken the lives of 578 brave Americans, and of an estimated 10,430 innocent Iraqi civilians, and has bled away $107 billion from our national treasury.
Leading the parade of protesters was presidential, anti-Iraq War candidate, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-OH). At the beginning of the rally, Kucinich said, "Last year, I stood on New York’s First Avenue and looked out at a half-million people who were protesting what was then the prospective involvement of the United States in Iraq. Since then, we’ve seen that there has been nothing but a trail of lies that led the United States into its involvement in Iraq. That Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. That Iraq had nothing to do with Al Qaeda’s role in 9/11, and that it had nothing to do with the Anthrax attack upon this country."
The demonstrators assembled at noon in sunny, Spring-like weather, between 23rd and 34th Streets on Madison Ave., in midtown New York. When I entered the area, Madison was barricaded from 23rd St. up to 42nd St. Once you entered onto Madison Ave., you couldn’t exit onto any of the side streets. Then, at 1 PM sharp, the parade began moving out onto 23rd St., west to 6th Avenue; then turning north, up to 40th Street; east to Madison Ave.; and, finally, south again to the starting point at 23rd Street. Madison Sq. Park was closed to the demonstrators.
Peace and justice activist Melissa Jameson said, “I believe all wars are crimes against humanity. And I think the way to end this war: is to not pay for it, to resist it, in the good old, nonviolent tradition.” Jameson added that the late, great Phil Berrigan of Baltimore, dissenter emeritus, was “one of my heroes.”
The coalition organizers, ANSWER (internationalanswer.org), and “United for Peace & Justice” (unitedforpeace.org), labeled March 20th, as a “Global Day of Action.” They focused on two primary themes: First, demanding an immediate end to the colonial occupation of Iraq by the Allied Forces and of Palestine by the Israelis; and, secondly, urging that all the U.S. troops be brought home now. Rallies were also held in 200 other U.S. cities, located in 36 states, and in 45 countries around the world.
As the demonstrators started marching west on 23rd St., a dispute arose about a line of uniform police being at the front of the parade. After some verbal complaints, the police moved to the sidelines. There was a very heavy police presence throughout the area of the march.
A supporter of the “Veterans for Peace” from Nyack, NY, who preferred not to give his name, told me, as we were marching along 6th Ave, “We’re tired of war all the time. We think our energies can be used in a more productive manner than starting a war and killing people.”
A Greenwich Village resident of Manhattan, Judy McCusker, was very upset with the city administration’s handling of the event. She said, “Each time we have a rally in New York City, the mayor (Michael Bloomberg) and the police commissioner (Ray Kelly) try to discourage people from coming to it by putting up these cattle shoots. I’m only 5′ tall and I get a little worried when I am in that kind of tight situation, looking out over the top of the crowd. It’s not very pleasant. I’m sure it keeps a lot of folks from participating.”
As a result of pressure from civil liberty advocates, NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg was force to modify his original parade permit scheme for today’s Anti-War Rally. At first, he wanted to barricade all the demonstrators onto an area stretching along Madison Ave from 23rd to 42nd St., and to keep them from marching at all, a right that goes straight to the heart of Free Speech. This is the restrictive-rights-denying tactic that he adopted for the last major anti-war rally in NYC, which was held on Feb. 15, 2003.
“I’m really fed up with the things the administration of George Bush has been doing to our civil liberties,” said Eleanor Skinner of Albany, NY. “I really hate it. It’s like we’re being made not to count, not to do the things we really want to do or to say things that we want to say. We’ve just invaded Iraq, without consulting our European allies or the UN. If we can do that, then why can’t some other country do that to us?
Finally, there was some irony about Madison Ave., named after James Madison, the 4th president, being the prime venue for the huge anti-war rally. Madison was one the principal drafters of the U.S. Constitution. He underscored how it was absolutely essential that the war-making power, vested in the Congress, Article, Sec. 8, not be usurped by the Executive branch, since the “temptation would be too great for any one man.”
Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened with respect to the Iraq War. The Congress, led by rabid War Hawks, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Ct) and Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), delegated away its awesome war-making power to President George W. Bush, Jr. – a man who has shown no respect for the truth, his solemn oath of office, the U.S. Constitution or the future well being of our Republic.
The number of protesters was estimated at 100,000.