3.19: NYCLAW Report on NYC Antiwar Demo
On March 19, 15,000 antiwar protesters stretched for 15 blocks as they marched from Harlem to Central Park in New York City. Similar demonstrations took place in London (100,000), San Francisco (25,000), Los Angeles (20,000), Chicago (6,000), Fayetteville (4,000), and in cities and towns across the United States.
In New York City, it was the largest antiwar protest since March 20, 2004, when 100,000 turned out on the first anniversary of the invasion of Iraq; much of the antiwar movement subsequently collapsed into support for pro-war presidential candidate John Kerry. The demonstration successfully defeated the city’s policy of denying permits for antiwar protests in Central Park and on Fifth Avenue.
But the March 19 demonstration, organized by the Troops Out Now Coalition, was most notable as the first large antiwar march to emerge from Harlem, and for its strong representation of African Americans, Latinos, Arabs, Muslims and Asians — many of them immigrants — from communities most directly impacted by the war, both abroad and at home.
From their own experience, protesters enthusiastically demanded Troops Out Now, and welcomed connections to related struggles in Haiti, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Palestine, the Philippines, Korea and elsewhere.
The protest began with a rally at Marcus Garvey Park. It rallied again at the military recruitment station on 125 Street, traveled through Central and East Harlem, and ended with a main rally in Central Park’s East Meadow. Afterwards, thousands marched through the wealthy Upper Eastside to deliver the same message to the home of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The Troops Out Now Coalition was initiated last fall by the International Action Center, and by trade unionists and community activists of color of the Million Worker March.
These include Brenda Stokely, president of AFSCME DC 1707, co-convener of New York City Labor Against the War, and co-chair of the Million Worker March; Nellie Bailey, of the Harlem Tenants Council; Christopher Silvera, chair of the Teamsters Black Caucus, and secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 808; TWU Local 100 activists Charles Jenkins and Richard McKnight; Una Muzak, owner of Liberation Bookstore in Harlem; and Gil Banks, cofounder of Harlem Fight Back.
As it has in the past, New York City Labor Against the War mobilized labor bodies, trade unionists and unorganized workers.
Labor endorsements and contingents came from AFSCME DC 1707 Local 205; AFSCME DC 37 Locals 375, 1930 and 262; AFM Local 1000; Association of Mexican American Workers; Black Telephone Workers for Justice; Coalition of Black Trade Unionists-NY; Guyanese-American Workers United; National Writers Union/UAW Local 1981; Educators Against the War; Postal Workers Against the War; Transit Workers Against the War; New Jersey Labor Against the War, 1199ers for Peace and Justice; NY Taxi Workers Alliance; and Troy Area Labor Council.
At the rally, NYCLAW co-convener Brenda Stokely told marchers that: “It is very important that the demonstration began in Harlem. Not only because the people of Harlem, and especially its young people, have had rain on them the costs of militarism, war and racism. Harlem is also important as a symbol of resistance. Every nationality in New York was represented in the march from Marcus Garvey Park to Central Park.”
Michael Letwin, NYCLAW co-convener and former president of UAW Local 2325/Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, said: “The U.S. government lost in Vietnam because that war inevitably bred anti-colonial resistance, mass protest at home, and a G.I. mutiny that crippled the most powerful war machine the world had ever seen. Today, the United States is losing in Iraq because *this* unjust war also breeds resistance.”
The full text of his remarks are posted at: <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LaborAgainstWar/message/2224> . His comments in a radio interview from the demonstration are posted at: <http://radio.indymedia.org/uploads/m19rasdinterviewspart1.mp3>
Other speakers included City Council Member Charles Barron, Congress Member Charles Rangel, former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark, historian Howard Zinn, Army National Guard resister Carl Webb, Larry Holmes of the International Action Center, Brian Becker of ANSWER, military family members Gloria Jackson and Kim Rosario, CCNY counter-recruiter Hadas Thier, Arab Muslim American Federation representative Khalid Lamada, Vulcan Society of Black firefighters president Paul Washington, and attorney Lynn Stewart.
The Central Park rally was broadcast by Pacifica-affiliate WBAI-FM, and a complete speakers list is posted at: <http://www.troopsoutnow.org/speakers.html> .
NYCLAW and the Troops Out Now Coalition also supported the March 19 veterans and military families antiwar protest in Fayetteville, NC.
There, NYCLAW activist and G.I. Special publisher Thomas Barton told a rally: “There is nothing more important today than building links and giving aid and comfort to the members of the armed forces who are turning against the war in greater numbers. The rebellion in the armed forces of the United States will stop the war.” <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A50251-2005Mar19.html> .
The Troops Out Now Coalition includes International ANSWER and numerous other antiwar organizations, a list of which is posted at <http://www.troopsoutnow.org/endorsers.html> . Also participating in the protest were many activists affiliated with United for Peace and Justice.
UFPJ’s leadership, however, rejected repeated invitations to cosponsor, endorse or publicize the event. This prompted an open letter from activists of color that “appeal[ed] to UFPJ and to all anti-war organizations . . . to stand shoulder to shoulder with people of color who carry the greatest weight of this war both home and abroad.” The letter is posted at: <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LaborAgainstWar/message/2213> .
The Million Worker March’s next antiwar action in NYC is a May 1 rally in Union Square for Jobs Not War — Bring the Troops Home Now. Details are posted at: <http://www.troopsoutnow.org/> .
Below and at <http://www.villagevoice.com/news/0512,Ferguson3,62275,6.html> is a vivid Village Voice report on the March 19 New York City protest.
Additional photos and coverage are posted at: <http://www.troopsoutnow.org/> <http://www.workers.org/2005/us/harlem-march-0331/> <http://www.regionalroundup.org/031905video1.htm>
Reports of March 19 demonstrations elsewhere are posted at: <http://answer.pephost.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ANS_M19reports&JServSessionI\ dr001=46v2f6kkz1.app8a> <http://socialistworker.org/2005-1/536/536_01_Protests.shtml> <http://radio.indymedia.org/news/2005/03/4118.php> <http://www.stopwar.org.uk/> <http://www.unitedforpeace.org/article.php?id=2798>
Peace March Veers Way Left Black-led protest challenges capitalism, imperialism, and New York’s very rich mayor
by Sarah Ferguson March 20th, 2005
Saturday’s demonstrations in New York to mark the second anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq were a good deal smaller than last year’s 100,000-strong march through Midtown, let alone the impassioned outpouring of dissent on February 15, 2003, just before the bombing began.
But activists say the many thousands who marched from Harlem to Central Park, and the 36 who got arrested during civil disobedience actions outside military recruiting stations in Times Square and downtown Brooklyn, signaled a “revival” of the anti-war movement, and proof of its deepening resolve.
“We have made history,” declared Nellie Bailey of the Harlem Tenants Council, shouting through a bullhorn from a flatbed truck outside the 125th Street Recruiting Station, to a crowd that stretched for many blocks. “We are standing tall together-as black, Latino, white, working class, Asians-to say we will no longer be taken for granted.”
Charging that the war was being financed on the backs of the working poor, Bailey assailed the Democratic Party for not standing against it. “We want the Democratic Party to have complete opposition to the war. No more of this weaving and waffling!”
Members of the War Resisters League, which organized the civil disobedience actions, and the Troops Out Now coalition, which mobilized the march from Harlem, said both protests were efforts to re-energize a peace movement derailed by the campaign to defeat President Bush, and then demoralized by his re-election.
“What we are doing today is not popular,” Congressman Charles Rangel told the several thousand sprawled over Central Park’s East Meadow, acknowledging how torn the American public remains over the war. “But it is the right thing to do.”
“It’s one thing to go to war. It’s another to mislead the American people,” Rangel added. “If those people who took us to war had to send their children to fight, we never would have gone. The Wolfowitzes, the Cheneys, the Rumsfelds-all these people knew they were going to war before Bush got elected. They have used 9-11 as an excuse!”
The march from Harlem drew anywhere from 4,500 people, according to an unofficial police estimate, to nearly 10,000, according to legal observers.
But its significance, organizers said, lay less in its size and more in the fact that this was the first black-led antiwar march to emerge from Harlem, a neighborhood they say symbolizes the disproportionate impact the war has had on communities of color.
Although African Americans were overwhelmingly opposed to the war–as some 72 percent of those polled in September–that dissent hasn’t always translated into foot power on the street. Many activists of color say they often feel alienated from what they see as a largely white peace movement.
Saturday was an effort to change that dynamic. “We made it clear today that this is a movement with significant black and people-of-color leadership, and our issues will not be ignored or relegated to the back burner by the established antiwar movement,” said Bailey, who helped initiate the Troops Out Now Coalition. “We are at the table whether they like it or not.”
Admittedly, the march might have been larger had United for Peace and Justice, the nation’s largest antiwar coalition, actively promoted it. Some activists termed UFPJ’s lack of involvement “unconscionable.”
UFPJ organizers said they steered clear because they objected to some of the more strident rhetoric that appeared in the Troops Out Now literature, including a call to support the “absolute and unconditional right of Iraqi people to resist the occupation,” regardless of the insurgents’ methods or fundamentalist ideologies. UFPJ was also put off by the central role played by the International Action Center, the same group of hard-left anti-imperialists that helped spawn the International ANSWER coalition, and who have sparred with UFPJ over past demonstrations.
On the street, such factionalism didn’t seem to matter, as contingents from a bewildering array of left-wing and Marxist splinter groups jostled alongside Raging Grannies, radical cheerleaders, and just plain-old pissed-off Americans, like Ellen Graves, a 65-year-old massage therapist from Springfield, Massachusetts, who sported a button that read: “4 Moron Years.”
“I just think it’s very important to come together so that people around the world realize there’s a lot of us here still opposed to the war,” Graves said.
By beginning the march in Harlem, organizers also hoped to paint in real terms the terrible burden this war has placed on the poor and working class.
The message was made clear along the march route, as the crowd trekked past shuttered storefronts, cheap mattress parlors, and 99 Cents stores along 125th Street, to the Armed Forces Recruiting Station, which, though closed, was well guarded by numerous police brass and several officers from the Technical Assistance Response Unit videotaping all who passed by.
Noting that Army recruitment is down 41 percent among African Americans, City Councilman Charles Barron told the crowd: “We are saying to the nation and to Bush that will not be cannon fodder for your illegal, immoral war for oil! We know the money they are sending to Iraq could balance every budget deficit in America.”
The march then headed south down Malcolm X Boulevard, past boarded-up brownstones alternating with newly renovated ones, and teams of Latin American day laborers hanging out in front of newly gutted tenements-part of the urban renewal that is sweeping many longtime Harlem residents out.
Though organizers hoped to capture some of the disaffection simmering in Harlem, many locals said they were not aware of the march. “I think it’s good, but I think it’s a little late. A lot of people done got killed over there already,” said Earl Williams, a barber at the Brite Lite barbershop, who is battling to save the 85-year-old shop from the landlord’s efforts to triple the rent.
Besides engaging more people of color, the tenor of the Troops Out Now protest was sharply to the left of past large antiwar demonstrations.
At the Marcus Garvey Park amphitheatrer, where the march assembled, the crowd gave a standing ovation to radical attorney Lynne Stewart, who was convicted last month of aiding terrorists by relaying messages from jailed Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, the so-called mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Calling herself a “poster girl for repression at home,” Stewart told her supporters, “We are here as the great resistance . . . to this dirty, rotten, self-aggrandizing war made by misguided men in high places.”
And a secretary from City College who was arrested during a protest there last week spoke less of the campaign to kick military recruiters off campus and more of the need to “overthrow capitalism.”
Other speeches in Central Park included former U.S. Attorney Ramsey Clark, who reiterated his call to impeach Bush, a tape-recorded message from death row star Mumia Abu Jamal, and more firebrand rhetoric from Councilman Barron. “It’s time to call it like it is: This as a war for oil and for the protection of Israel,” said Barron, who vowed to “build a progressive, revolutionary radical new order.”
Indeed, the march took on class-war overtones when a still-hardy crowd of 4,000 set off from the park to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s townhouse on 79th Street near Fifth Avenue. The contrast from Harlem was clear as the jeering protesters filed past the Upper East Side’s marbled residences, chanting things like: “Rich people, that’s okay, you can work for us one day!” and “Money for jobs, not for war!” But the reaction from passersby remained surprisingly positive-including blown kisses and “thank you’s” from a well-appointed wedding party getting into limos outside Ignatius Loyola Catholic Church on Park Avenue.
“We came from Wisconsin for my niece’s wedding, but we would have joined the protest if we could,” said Marlene Dion, a nurse from Appleton, Wisconsin, adding that she was disappointed there were not more antiwar protests where she’s from. “This war should never have happened. I’m against anything from this administration.”
About 1,500 people made it to the corner of 79th Street and Fifth Avenue-half a block from Bloomberg’s residence, which was as close as the cops would let them get. The police, though numerous, remained relatively low-key as speakers assailed Bloomberg and “the wealthy who don’t like protests on Fifth Avenue”-a reference to the organizers’ battle over the right to march down the avenue, which is reserved for cultural parades.
Brandishing a poster of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, Troops out Now leader Larry Holmes justified the attack on Bloomberg, despite the mayor’s publicly neutral stance on the Iraq war. “He’s a billionaire and he’s close to Bush, and we want that $80 billion that Bush is spending on war-we want that money in New York and all these other cities that are suffering now.”
No doubt Bloomberg would also like a piece of that $80 billion as he grapples with steep cuts to federal aid for housing and mass transit, and the shortchanging of homeland security dollars to New York.
But Holmes was adamant: “If Bloomberg is not with us, he is against us.”