PROTESTERS poured onto the streets of Washington, DC, on the US East Coast last Saturday in the country's biggest anti-war protest so far. Over 300,000 people joined the march, according to independent observers and the march organisers, Act Now to Stop War and End Racism. Up to 200,000 marched in San Francisco, on the US West Coast, and tens of thousands joined protests in other US cities.
National news networks had been forced to run reports in the days before the demonstration about the protest in Washington. But they would not admit the true size of the march. Many repeated the police's estimates-who clearly use the same counting methods as in Britain-that ranged from 10,000 to 50,000 people.
They could not hide the significance of Saturday's amazing demonstration-the more George Bush has stepped up his war drive, the more people have come out on the streets against it.
'I came with a group of five friends on a six-hour drive from New Paltz, a small town outside New York,' Jo Salas told Socialist Worker. 'Our little community sent seven full buses and numerous cars here today. We have been extremely active in our local area for months, with vigils and demonstrations almost weekly. There is tremendous momentum. The opinion polls in the US do not give the real picture of what is going on. I have not met anyone who thinks war is a good idea. People I know have said the same thing. The media is corporate owned and hasn't been reporting our protests. But I think something is beginning to turn. They realise that we are news.'
Many of the marchers were young people, with banners displaying the high schools and universities they came from. Amanda Fiedler, a 17 year old high school student, said, 'I travelled for 25 hours on a bus from Minnesota. There were at least 18 buses altogether.
'Julio, a good friend of mine, was shipped out last week. He's 19 years old. He thinks this war is wrong. I'm against the war because it's really being fought to help the oil companies.'
Chana, 18 years old, travelled from Massachusetts. She was among those carrying placards advertising the march in New York on 15 February. The United for Peace coalition, which supported Saturday's march, has called the February demonstration as part of the international day of protest against war in Iraq.
'We'll be marching again then when people will be out across the world,' said Chana. 'At my school many students think like me and don't want Bush to go to war.' Hundreds of trade unionists also gathered to join the march.
US Labour Against the War was set up earlier this month after over 400 members of the Teamsters union in Chicago passed an anti-war resolution. Chris Townsend, a union organiser from Virginia, said, 'Our union has passed a resolution against the war and endorsed US Labour Against the War. We are organising to get people out on 15 February.
'It's very different to the last Gulf War 12 years ago. People are talking about it before the war starts. Even when people aren't sure what they feel, if you have some discussion they are convinced a war is wrong. Bush talks about war being a done deal. People are appalled by that. I think the anti-war protests have forced him to postpone the war this long.'
The media have tried to claim that the protesters are only asking Bush to be 'cautious' about a war and not to attack without UN backing. The mood of Saturday's demonstration was much harder than that.
'What the Bush administration is doing is hypocritical,' said Becky LoDolce, a restaurant worker from Syracuse, New York. 'When you look at what the US has done over the years, who is really the danger in the world? I don't want war even if the United Nations backs it. 'Who really dominates the UN? It is pushed over by the US.'
Miles, a speaker from the Not In Our Name coalition, was cheered when he said, 'George Bush is positioning troops and weapons. His war moves need to be met with powerful resistance, whether they have the blessing of the UN or not. Whether there is a quick victory or not, this war is wrong. People round the world look at the US and see a powerful, war-hungry juggernaut. They also have to see powerful resistance and a people saying, 'Not in our name'.'
Many of the marchers were angry about other issues they saw as connected to Bush's war drive. These included the attack on civil liberties, the repression against immigrants, and the increase in military spending at the expense of welfare. Charlie Shobe from Maryland was one of the many war veterans who joined the march. He said:
'I have been anti-war since I came out of Vietnam. That was a stupid slaughter for nothing too. There are a lot of veterans here, and I even talked to one guy who is on active duty in the Marines.'
Ron Kovic, the Vietnam War veteran portrayed in the film Born on the Fourth of July, spoke at the rally. He said:
'Today is particularly significant for me as 35 years ago, virtually to the day, I was shot in Vietnam and paralysed. You will be part of an extraordinary moment in history. This movement cannot only stop a war in Iraq-it can change the priorities of the nation.'
Students organise for 15 February
AROUND 120 student delegates from 60 colleges met in George Washington University the day before the demo to launch a student coalition against the war. 'Students are holding joint organising conferences in Washington and San Francisco to create a national student-run anti-war network,' said Lauren Ciszak, one of the coordinators.
The students voted to set up the Campus Anti-War Network. They agreed to organise a big mobilisation for 15 February in New York. They also voted to build for a national walkout on campus the day after war starts. The students loudly applauded two members of the Stop the War Coalition in Britain, Jeremy Corbyn MP and Helen Salmon from the NUS executive.
'ANTI-WAR protesters converged in Washington making a thunderous presence in the bitter cold. Men, women and children fought off freezing temperatures in ski masks and goggles. The crowd was the largest anti-war demonstration here since the Vietnam era. Marchers spoke of a surging grassroots political power.'
Front page story, Washington Post, Sunday 19 January
Celebrities back movement
THE ACTRESS Jessica Lange spoke at the march's opening rally: 'We are sending a message. We object to this immoral war. Bush, you are not speaking for us. We must not be silent. We must provoke debate in our homes, schools and communities. This administration has tended to keep us paralysed with war rhetoric and the Patriot Act. It is a cover to turn back the clock on civil liberties.'
Actor Martin Sheen spoke at the anti-war rally on last Saturday's demonstration in San Francisco. Both are among the 100 celebrities who have signed up to Artists United to Win Without War, a declaration against war on Iraq.
Others who have signed it include Martin Scorsese, Elliott Gould, Gillian Anderson, Matt Damon, Danny Glover, Samuel L Jackson, David Duchovny and Helen Hunt. Viggo Mortensen, who plays Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings films, wore a T-shirt with 'No blood for oil' written on it while on TV promoting his latest film.