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Background: Protesting War

January 17, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


PROTESTORS: No war against Iraq!

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The largest protest was in Washington on Saturday, when thousands of protesters gathered near the Capitol, braving bone-chilling temperatures in the 20’s. Organizers estimated a turnout of half a million people, but there was no official count by the D.C. Police Department or the National Park Service. Congress ordered the park service to stop counting crowds after organizers of a previous demonstration threatened to sue the service over crowd estimates they thought were too low.

SPOKESPERSON: One, two, three, four.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: People and organizations from all over the country marched: Vietnam veterans against the war, women for peace, anarchist and pacifist groups, and members of ANSWER– Act Now to Stop war and End Racism– one of the organizers of the event. A newly formed coalition of 60 labor unions, lead by former Teamsters Union official Bob Meuhlenkamp, also took part.

BOB MEUHLENKAMP: These are very patriotic people. They would support a war if it was justified. That’s not the issue. What you hear most is, Bush has not made his case for this war.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: There were also people who came to represent just themselves, young families, grandmothers, and protesters who had never been in a demonstration before. Nancy Morrison, a New Yorker who was severely injured at the World Trade Center on 9/11, explained how the prospect of going to war made her feel.

NANCY MORRISON: I’m heartsick. I think it’s a wrong response. I think everything about it is wrong. And I’m so heartened to see that there are other people. I have felt isolated in my dismay, and it’s like a community prayer to see everyone out together. I’m very happy about it.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Do you think this is all going to mean anything?

NANCY MORRISON: It doesn’t matter. In the global sense, I think it always does when people of goodwill speak out.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Mike Corcoran is a Connecticut father of two who, until now, has never been involved in protest.

MIKE CORCORAN: I don’t see why the United States has to get so involved. I really don’t understand why we always have to be the international world peacekeepers. What’s the whole point of the U.N. if the United States always has to be the ones out there?

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Valerie Lucznikowska belongs to a group called peace for tomorrow, made up of people who lost loved ones on 9/11.

VALERIE LUCZNIKOWSKA: It wasn’t Iraqis who flew into the world trade center. It was mostly Saudis on the planes. Iraq did not commit that.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: So even if the U.N. was on board?

VALERIE LUCZNIKOWSKA: Perhaps if the U.N. were completely on board. If the U.N. could vote on it completely, perhaps in that instance, because that would mean that they found true evidence. That would be a different story. But no evidence has been found. Some empty shell casings are not true evidence.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Dozens of speakers addressed the crowd during a two-hour rally on the national Mall.

JESSE JACKSON: Let’s not attack Iraq. Let’s choose minds over missiles, and negotiation over confrontation.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Politicians were joined by a contingent from Hollywood.

JESSICA LANGE: We have checked in our hearts, in our minds, it is an immoral war that they are beginning, and we must not be silenced. We have to be able to stand up and say no.

JANEANE GAROFALO: This is a war for imperialism it’s going to have disastrous effects globally. It’s going to further destabilize the Middle East, escalate the violence in Israel and Palestine.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: After the rally, the field of demonstrators spread out and marched from the Capitol to the Washington navy yard. At one point outside the Washington Marine barracks, the marchers met with a small group of counter demonstrators who called them unpatriotic.

BILL GEORGE: America is a great country. It’s a freedom loving country, it’s a peace loving country. But sometimes you can preach, sometimes you pray, every once in a while you gotta fight.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Some of the anti war demonstrators carried signs that said “No blood for oil,” a reference to their contention that a war against Iraq would not be about combating terrorism, but about help Pres. Bush get control of Iraq’s rich oil fields.

ROSE LAZARRE: I think this war is about oil because he’s got other enemies elsewhere. North Korea is ready, but he’s not going.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: You don’t think it’s about terrorism?

ROSE LAZARRE: No, not at all.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Do you think Saddam Hussein is a threat to the U.S.?


BETTY ANN BOWSER: Saleem Noormohamed brought his wife and ten-year- old daughter to the demonstration. He believes opposition to a possible war is significant.

SALEEM NOORMOHAMED: The interesting thing is it is heartening to see black, white, yellow, and everybody there who is against war. And the whole idea that the whole country is behind Mr. Bush is ludicrous.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The protests came at a time when polls show more than 50 percent of the American people do not believe Pres. Bush has made a case for an all out war. Anti-war groups have been buoyed by that and by the actions of some local governments. A number of city councils have passed resolutions opposing war, including Chicago’s last week.

SPOKESMAN: Resolution passed.


BETTY ANN BOWSER: The anti-war groups have also taken to the airwaves. An Internet-based antiwar organization called began airing this television ad, which is copied after the controversial 1964 campaign ad run by Pres. Lyndon Johnson’s campaign.

SPOKEPERSON: Maybe that’s why Americans are saying to Pres. Bush. let the inspections work.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: But the most visible opposition to a possible war has been on the streets. Besides the march in Washington, there were protests in a dozen other cities, including this one in San Francisco, where tens of thousands turned out. Organizers of the events timed the protests to coincide with celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. He was assassinated at a time when he was organizing demonstrations to protest the war in Vietnam. The march on Saturday in Washington was mostly peaceful. But 16 protesters were arrested on Sunday in a smaller demonstration.