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VVAW Participation in March 20, 2004 Demonstrations
The following is a synopsis of some of the activities VVAW was involved in nationwide on March 20, 2004 in opposition to the current war of the Bush adminsitration.
The day started out cool, but clear and sunny. By 10:30 a.m. about 40 people had assembled at the flagpole of the Auraria Campus in downtown Denver for the 11:00 a.m. rally. I began to think the event would be anticlimactic compared to last year's march in February. Then the crowd grew rapidly, and by the time the actual march began, I would guess at least couple of thousand peace activists were in attendance. Media estimates aired on NPR this morning were placed at "thousands" of marchers.
There were four active VVAW members in attendance. Several other veterans approached us during the day to offer their support and appreciation. Many members of mainstream and alternative media were busy interviewing one VVAW member who showed up in a full-dress, Class A uniform.
We marched from the campus into the downtown financial district, passing the offices of Halliburton along the way. I was surprised at the relatively light police presence. Their function was — correctly — mostly traffic safety and flow. We were not granted a parade permit, so we were constrained to remain on the public sidewalks. Parade organizers advised us that riot squads and SWAT teams were in readiness, but I never saw any evidence of this. Perhaps not surprising, since the crowd was law-abiding and peaceful, if colorful and somewhat noisy.
After Halliburton, the marchers proceeded through several blocks of the downtown area and then paused at a memorial to "The Unknown Soldier." Several rally organizers from Denver peace groups along with the four VVAW representatives placed flowers at the base of the memorial. Although the memorial is adjacent to a public sidewalk, in a publicly-accessible plaza, there were temporary signs posted declaring the site to be "Private Property — Trespassing Prohibited."
The march organizers advised us that we risked arrest and incarceration for trespass by placing the flowers at the memorial. Some of our members have been jailed previously for acts of civil disobedience, and those who had not decided that the symbolism, and the possible publicity arising from arrest for such a peaceful act, justified the risk. Pleasantly, the authorities took no action, and the march continued to a large plaza in front of the Federal Building for the closing rally.
At the rally, several speakers talked about the experiences of their children or other relatives who had served or were currently on duty in Iraq. Others discussed the folly of using preemptive war as a means of projecting U.S. foreign policy. The "Radical Cheerleaders" gave a rousing performance, adding a lighter touch to the generally somber proceedings. Much emphasis was given to the now widely-recognized misrepresentations of the Iraqi WMD threat by the Bush administration.
On the way back to the parking area, the four VVAW members officially in attendance — Don and Ray Wood, Terry Leichner and myself — decided that we now had enough active members to begin having periodic local meetings. The goal is greater organization and greater visibility within the community as opponents to the administration's counterproductive and inappropriate foreign policy. At future rallies, we plan to wear our old uniforms and carry a VVAW banner. By doing so, we will demonstrate solidarity with our active-duty brethren, and showing our status as former warriors will add credibility to our voice for peace.
Rockford Peace & Justice Action Committee's International Day of Protest started well, with wonderful songs, a poem by Christopher Sims, and prayers and speeches. (I gave a speech about how veterans who oppose war should be supported, and a friend immediately invited me out to lunch this week, saying, "Is that what you meant?") Over 75 people rallied at the church, and when we stepped off for the march, there were 83.
Five veterans for peace led the walk to State and Alpine, joined by a lively drumming section. (I think they were members of the local Bread Not Bombs, and they kept up a supportive beat the whole day).
We had two interlopers from Right to Life, but they were not disruptive and almost fit in, except one had a bullhorn and harangued us from across the street.
The three local TV stations covered us.
Afterwards we invited folks back for soup, salad and desserts, which were gobbled up while David Stocker serenaded us. At least 18 people signed up for the mailing list, two of which were vets, one a Vietnam vet from 1970-71 — my era! We were very happy to have attracted new folks.
The Milwaukee day was sunny and warm with a brisk northwest wind. Whatever the sun gave for heat, the howling wind stole away. The demonstration began at noon and featured musicians, poets and speakers.
Milwaukee VVAW - March 20, 2004
Close to twenty Milwaukee VVAW members took part in the demo here. Total participants have been estimated at between 800 and 1200. A couple of dozen pro-Bushies had a counterdemo across the street but left after a short time. There were speeches and a march to the Federal Building.
Our display was to be a ninety-foot diameter peace symbol made of American flags. Each flag had a sticker attached with the name, hometown, age, unit and date of death for each U.S. soldier killed in Iraq.
Near the end of the program, VVAW national officer John Zutz spoke. He entreated the crowd to remember those servicemembers who had died. He reminded the protesters that 58,000 died over ten years in Vietnam, and that over 570 had died in one year of Iraq, and that both wars were based on lies.
He also informed the group that some of our leaders would have them believe that 570 is an insignificant number. He then told the group he was only allowed two minutes to speak, and offered to call for a minute of silence for the dead. He remarked that if they were to observe a minute of silence for each of our dead the group would be standing quietly for over nine and a half hours. (And of course that wouldn't include "coalition" troops or Iraqis.)
After this moment of silence, Zutz invited all demonstration participants, especially veterans, to participate in the installation of 575 flags to give a visual display of what this number looks like.
Three television stations showed up to film the project and interviewed both of us. There was a very positive response from passersby during the afternoon.
Meg Miner, Champaign-Urbana, Illinois - March 20, 2004
The Champaign-Urbana community held a rally/walk for peace on March 20. The event began at the Urbana Middle School gymnasium with a talk by a local Iraqi businessman who had recently visited his family in Iraq. Some community folks read poems and sang songs. The event concluded with a candlelight remembrance of all who have died in Iraq in the last year, followed by a walk up to the courthouse about 6 blocks away. I spoke at the courthouse with two other people, and local folk singers performed.
Barry Romo spoke at an earlier faith and peace church event in downtown Chicago that was very crowded. He shared his time with a young mother who had two sons in the military, one a 19-year-old Marine in Asia and one in the 1st Armored in Iraq, age 20. Fighting back tears, she told how her oldest son had contacted her after their first ambush. How, when he came home on R&R, he stood at the door with sand and blood on his fatigues, 15 pounds lighter. She told the crowd that no mother should have to send their child back to war.
At the rally point before the big march, VVAW's Bill Davis spoke and kicked ass. A group from Champaign-Urbana traveled up to Chicago and joined with the VVAW contingent in this two-mile march of four to five thousand protestors.
Chicago, Illinois - March 20, 2004
There were all kinds of anti-war groups, including Chicago neighborhood groups, Palestinian solidarity networks, and lots of just everyday people. The craziest part is that there were so many police. It seemed like there was probably one police officer for every protester. They were mostly Chicago PD, but there were also some County officers. During parts of the march they were shoulder to shoulder along the edge almost as far as you could see, and in some parts three or four deep along the side, with multiple helicopters in the air and police everywhere filming all the participants. The police had on full riot gear: helmets, visors, shields, full body armor including boots and gloves, shields, nightsticks, all kinds of weapons. They seemed better-outfitted than the troops in Iraq.
During the rally at the end of the march, it was almost impossible to hear the speakers clearly.
Afterward, a small group went back to Barry's place to hang out for a while. A Marine vet, only recently back from Iraq and with two weeks to go, came back with us.
In Eureka, California, Humboldt County, 280 miles north of San Francisco along the Pacific coast, over 4,000 marched one and a half miles through city streets on a warm, beautiful sunny day. Proclamations from the County Board of Supervisors and the Eureka City Council supported the march. About 50 members of northern California indigenous tribes, along with more than 60 members of VFP (from Garberville Chapter 22 and Humboldt Bay Chapter 56), led the march. It ended at a concluding rally at the Gazebo in Old Town Eureka. The rally featured two hours of speakers, theater and music, the sound system completely powered by eight stationary bicyclists generating electricity along with a solar module.
Fayetteville, North Carolina
A half dozen or more of the 1200 participants in the Fayetteville/Fort Bragg action were VVAW members, including two of us who wore VVAW T-shirts. We have marched before and we will march again!
Ann Arbor, Michigan - March 20, 2004
The good folks from Lansing put together a great march to the Capitol featuring speakers, music and workshops.
I was introduced as representing both VVAW ("the first veterans' group to oppose war") and Vets For Peace. I was the only veteran on the program and led the group in cadence on the Capitol steps. I don't have the raspy voice of Dave Cline, but the crowd loved it. I added a few verses covering schools, the national debt, Gulf I vets, and Spain.
After that there were a variety of workshops. I showed Country Joe's "Vietnam Experience" video. Moved a lot of people. The combination of music and images can be very powerful. A person from the Michigan Peace Team covered Iraq. We then discussed the similarities of Iraq and Vietnam, and the effects on the troops, their families, and the country.
Farmington, New Mexico
About 25 peaceniks showed up for a two-hour rally in Farmington. There were only two VVAW members in attendance, but that was enough to hold our banner. It was a sunny spring day in the 70s, nice beat on a tom-tom, good vibes — and we only got flipped off a few times.
New York City - March 20, 2004