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Millions Protest Possible War with Iraq Posted:2.19.03
Millions of demonstrators take to the streets hoping to convince world leaders not to take military action against Iraq.
Around the world, millions of demonstrators turned out in hundreds of cities on all continents the weekend of Feb. 15. The show of opposition to war with Iraq may have been the biggest in history-- a feat made easier by coordination on the Internet.
The effectiveness of such protests is hard to gauge. Organizers would like it to enter the history books as a moment when ordinary people came together to convince those in power of a certain action -- similar to how the Boston Tea Party is often described as a pivotal event that built popular support for the American colonies to rise up against the King of England.
The largest protests were held in Europe. In London, an estimated one million people marched through the city. London Mayor Ken Livingstone congratulated the crowd on making such a strong anti-war statement.
"I cannot tell you the pride I feel that, as mayor of London, I can officially welcome you here to this city in the biggest political demonstration in 2,000 years of British history," he said.
Presidential and protesters
In the United States, protesters gathered in more than 100 towns and cities. However, on the Tuesday after the weekend marches, President Bush said the protests did not change his mind.
"I respectfully disagree" with those who "don't view Saddam Hussein as a threat," he said. War remains a last resort, the president told reporters, but "the risk of doing nothing is even a worse option as far as I'm concerned."
Historically, presidents and protesters have often faced off over military action in other countries.
In his memoirs, former president Richard Nixon admitted being troubled by the protests. He wrote that a 1969 march on Washington "raised for the first but by no means the last time in my administration a basic and important question about the nature of leadership in a democracy: should the president or Congress or any responsible elected official let public demonstrations influence his decisions?"
Presenting a united message
Organizers in the U.S. say one of the demonstrations' goals is to woo undecided Americans.
"You get an opportunity to project an image on the 6 o'clock news that will go into the homes of mainstream Americans, many of whom are uncomfortable with this war. And so you don't want to blow it," said Tom Andrews, national director of Win Without War, a coalition of 29 civic and religious groups.
Andrews said his group worked to present a united message. Last month in Washington, speakers selected by that rally's organizer, International ANSWER, addressed a wide range of topics, including American Indian rights and the release of imprisoned activist Mumia Abu-Jamal, who killed a police officer in 1981.
According to Andrews, the inclusiveness actually diluted the message and left many observers with the impression that the antiwar movement lacks cohesion (an opinion shared by the writers of a "Saturday Night Live" sketch that ended with a disorganized crowd shouting "Bomb Iraq!")
There is also the danger of putting off potential protesters. One high-schooler wrote an essay for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette complaining that the leaders of the January protest "were so extreme and blatantly anti-American that it might have pushed me to the other camp if I had arrived undecided."
First-timers join New York protest
In New York City, where between 200,000 to 500,000 protesters gathered at a rally several blocks from the United Nations headquarters, participants ranged from activists who have participated in many marches to first-timers who were moved by the rapid pace of the Bush administration's push to war.
Mary Ellen Madison, from upstate New York, came to with one of her five children.
"I grew up with this idea of America, we Americans are heroes. We're the real heroes. We go in and do good things. But this sort of preemptive strike against a sovereign nation that has not attacked us is not my idea of what I was brought up to believe that we Americans are," she said.
She did say that Saddam Hussein "is an evil man, and the U.N. should be doing something with him, but there are peaceful steps that should be taken."
Stan Phillips, a Vietnam War veteran from Connecticut, said he has always been "middle of the road, not really active in anything." He told the New York Times that "this war with Iraq has really lit a fire under my feet. I just couldn't sit there and watch TV anymore. I had to do something."
While protesters and police occasionally scuffled - especially in New York city where officials feared the large crowds may attract terrorist activity - the rallies went off without reports of major injuries.
Lisa and Shauna Rae, sisters from Boston, said they were on the lookout for potential trouble, after being forewarned by parents who recalled the civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s.
"They said to watch out for hoses and dogs," said Lisa, a University of Massachusetts student. "I guess they hadn't been to a protest in a long time."
What do you think?
Would you participate in an anti-war protest? Why or why not?
Why are protests and the right to protest important in a democracy?
How would you answer former president Nixon's question on the role of protests in a democracy?
Write an essay for NewsHour Extra and send it to email@example.com
-- By Leah Clapman, NewsHour Extra
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