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Report on the Jan 27 March in Washington, D.C.

The following are notes from my last few days in Washington, D.C. I spent 15 days in D.C. volunteering for the demonstration held on January 27 and the Lobby Day on Jan 29.

Pre-March Activities
The Friday before the march was a busy day with a number of events leading up to the big demonstration. That morning CodePink presented an installation of "Walk in Their Shoes," commemorating Iraqi civilians whose lives have been taken in the war. The shoes, each one tagged with the name and age of an Iraqi victim, were in a Plexiglas cube about 1.5 meters square and 2.5 tall. The shoes spilled out on to the grass. There were 6500 pairs, one for every 100 Iraqis killed in the war. The installation was placed on the mall right in front of the Capitol, as well as the stage for the rally the next day. Shoes were dropped off all weekend by people participating in the march. Jodie Evans and Medea Benjamin of CodePink spoke as did Michael McPhearson of Veterans for Peace. The names of Iraqi victims were also read.

Friday evening a somber candlelight vigil was held against torture in front of the White House. The vigil was held for victims of torture, as well as those being detained without charge and those who have lost their right to Habeas Corpus. Torture survivors were present, including Sister Dianna Ortiz. There were about 100 of us there lining Pennsylvania Ave in front of the White House.

Following the vigil that night we had a reunion meeting with the folks from Camp Casey led by San Diego activist extraordinaire Barbara Cummings (she sent us the pink Impeach Bush t-shirts) and Ret. Col. Ann Wright, who resigned from the State Department in protest of the Iraq War. There were at least 80 of us, many from Camp Caseys past whom I met for the first time. We went around the room introducing ourselves and I wish I had taken notes because there are some "average" citizens doing extraordinary things to stop this war! Colonel Ann told us on one of her recent trips to interrupt hearings on Capitol Hill, she was being escorted out by a large burly man who told her, "I'm a Marine, and I'm glad you're doing this."

The Day of the March
We were all invited to go down to the Mall at 7am as "Good Morning America" on ABC was going to be shooting live. Only a few made it down that early and the rally wasn't to start until 11am. But as was to be expected, the mainstream media reported on how few people were there! The rally was covered live by C-Span and is available on their web site (requires RealMedia player).

Speakers included religious leaders such as Michael Lerner, political figures who have been outspoken against the war such as Dennis Kucinich, Lynn Woolsey, Maxine Waters and Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson. The Hollywood contingent included Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Jane Fonda. Iraq War Veterans, military family members and Gold Star family members as well as active duty soldiers who had signed the Appeal for Redress (http://www.appealforredress.org/) and war resister Lt. Ehren Watada's father, Bob Watada also spoke and received much applause from the crowd.

Then the march got underway. United for Peace and Justice, the organizers, had tried for a march route going around the Capitol, but the Capitol Police would not approve it. After much negotiation, a march up one side of the Capitol was approved, having the demonstrators double back ON THE SAME STREET. This route was accepted knowing it would be chaos and hoping the numbers would force the police to provide an alternate route. And that is exactly what happened.

I actually marched it twice. I was pretty close to the head of the march and I went up to the point where they made us double back. The street was block by a city bus parked sideways. I got back to the Mall and there were still so many people that I marched again. This time they let us go all the way around the Capitol and march down the other side. We surrounded the Capitol. I've heard various stories on who negotiated and convinced the police to let us through, including that Maxine Waters picked the bus up and moved it out of the way.

As far as numbers, UFPJ initially estimated the crowd at 400,000. Someone from Veterans for Peace told me he had heard the Park Service say 500,000. Juan Torres, Gold Star Families for Peace who lost his son in Afghanistan said he spoke with the French press and they were saying 650,000 - an interesting number since it would be one for every Iraqi civilian victim. Unfortunately, the initial AP stating "tens of thousands" was picked up by much of the press.

People were everywhere. On the steps of the Senate buildings, the Capitol, around the reflecting pool. And, of course, marching in the streets. There was great variety and diversity. Veterans, active duty service members (Appeal for Redress), military families, celebrities, the labor movement, women's groups (NOW, CodePink), grassroots (MoveOn, Working Assets, Answer), and many, many state delegations proudly waving their state flags. The one from Texas, with the banner from Camp Casey and another from the Crawford Peace House got a lot of attention.

There were many creative signs and theatre. My favorite sight was a 50 meter long backbone with "Investigate, Indict, Imprison" written on the sides. There were many references to impeachment, opposition to the surge/escalation, to military action against Iran, and against torture. It was loud and very energized.

There was a rather pathetic counter protest of about 30 people. Signs read "I support the president and the war."

Post March Activities and Lobby Day
On Sunday workshops and training sessions were held in a local high school from 9am to 5pm. I chose those that would be most helpful for the Lobby Day. The first that morning was sponsored by Veterans for Peace and Military Families Speak Out and focused on cutting off funds for the war. This one to be the main focus of the Lobby Day since Bush is expected to present his request for a $100,000,000,000 supplemental spending bill for Iraq on Feb 5. The second was with Iraqi blogger Raed Jarrar and journalist Aaron Glantz who filled us in on the Iraqi Parliament as well as the new oil law.

The plenary session included speakers such as Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies, David Swanson of AfterDowningStreet.org, Leslie Cagan of UFPJ.

Sue Udry, who coordinated the Lobby Day told us we had over 800 people registered, and since peace activists don't follow instructions, they were expecting many more. In fact, when we broke up into state delegations, I found that half the group from Colorado had not registered.

On Monday, we had 48 of 50 states represented and everywhere you went that day, on all floors of all the various Senate and House buildings, you saw peace activists. On a conference call with Jim McGovern in preparation for the Lobby Day he told us, "They know you are coming!" It was beautiful. A staffer in my pro-war Democratic Senator's office (Ken Salazar) told us, "When 500,000 people march in your backyard, you take notice."

Perhaps the most beautiful sight was looking down from an upper floor in one of the Senate buildings at the enormous group from California who had to meet in the lobby, as they couldn't possibly fit in any office.

Three Representatives put their offices at our disposal for a cup of coffee or just a place to sit down for a bit. These were Jim McGovern, Dennis Kucinich and Maxine Waters, who had big welcome signs for us.

We lobbied on 4 main points, in order of importance: cut off funding for the war, investigations into the lead up to the war as well as waste and fraud, no military action against Iran and opposition against the escalation, AKA surge.

I ran into some people from Code Pink in the halls and they invited me to one last action before I left the next day. So on Tuesday morning, about 50 of us gathered at Senator Hillary Clinton's office. We had banners, children's shoes representing the Iraqi victims of the war, and we sang and chanted demanding she cut off funding for the war and as a presidential candidate, take a strong stand against the war. There was much press there and a number of us invaded her office for a while. But when the police started giving warnings I got out of the way, as I wanted to come home. Six people did get arrested. The rest of us sang and chanted our way down four flights of stairs and out of the building. We were very loud and as people complained about the police state I tried to imagine being able to do something like that in Italy.

We then walked over to where a number of Senate hearing were taking place and interrupted the confirmation hearings for Negroponte as nominee for Deputy Secretary of State. He will most likely be confirmed, but we made our voices heard.

And finally, I will leave you with a message that my friend Richard received from an "old Missouri cattleman." Richard is a cattleman himself and was always asking his older neighbor to keep an eye on his place while he was "away," without explaining he was going to a protest in Kansas City, or to Camp Casey in Texas, or Camp Democracy in Washington. He slowly started letting his neighbor know what he was doing. And he received the following message from him:

"I support the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I support the killing of innocent women, children and soldiers.
I support the desecration of the Constitution.
I support the destruction of our environment and our eco-systems.
I support Global Warming.
I support the death penalty for poor people and people of color.
I support population control through starvation.
I support the power to imprison us without our due process by
eliminating habeas corpus.
I support these things by DOING NOTHING."

Feel free to forward the above, attributing it to "an old Missouri cattleman."

Stephanie Westbrook


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Copyright © 2006 Stephanie Westbrook  All rights reserved.
U.S. Citizens for Peace & Justice - Rome, Italy