With the Washington Monument looming in the background, people gathered before the march to hear dozens of speakers from various political and social walks of life denounce President Bush’s decision to go to war.
“As more troops start to come home in body bags, more and more people don’t know what we’re doing there,” said Bill Hackwell, a spokesman for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) the coalition that organised the march along with another advocacy group, United for Peace and Justice.
Hackwell estimated that 100,000 people attended the demonstration, though that number could not be independently verified.
A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police Department said it no longer gave crowd estimates. Reuters reported that police on the scene put the figure at roughly 30,000.
An overwhelming number of protesters seemed to believe the Bush administration lied to the American people about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction programme and led the United States into an unjust war, driven by oil and imperialist designs on the Middle East.
“Don’t give Bush $87 billion. Don’t give him 87 cents.”
Reverend Al Sharpton,
civil rights activist
Demonstrators from across the country arrived carrying signs that read “No more Bush, no more blood,” “No blood for oil,” and “Peace over dictatorship.”
One of those protesters, Philip Booth, said he drove all night on a bus from Michigan to tell the president that “we were lied to.”
“I hope this is a demonstration to the Bush administration that the anti-war, anti-imperialist movement is very alive,” Booth said.
Calls for impeachment
Like many in attendance, Booth called for the president’s impeachment, saying Bush had violated his oath of office by misleading the public.
“I think the crimes that Bush committed are much more grave than the crimes that [former President] Clinton committed,” he said.
Richard Kaziny, a demonstrator from Chicago, Illinois, expressed anger at what he perceived to be the administration’s manipulation of intelligence on Saddam Hussein’s threat to US national security.
“This country was in no danger from Iraq,” Kaziny said. “It was just a made-up fairy tale of an excuse for war for oil and business interests.”
Although the organisers of the march are pushing the administration to “Bring the Troops Home Now,” Bill Dobbs, a spokesman for United for Peace and Justice, said the message was more thematic than literal.
Thousands demonstrated near
the Washington Monument
“That is the rallying cry… Exactly how that happens is going to require some level of international cooperation,” Dobbs said.
But Hackwell said he was not buying the argument that the United States needed to maintain a long-term military presence in Iraq in order to keep the peace.
“There’s this colonial mentality that we’re over there now and we have to finish the job and that’s a racist mentality,” he said.
Many protesters and speakers at the rally insisted their criticism of the White House was not unpatriotic, as supporters of the president might suggest.
“We’re the real patriots,” said Reverend Al Sharpton, a well-known civil rights activist and one of the Democratic candidates for president. “We want to stop the misuse of American lies in Iraq.”
Sharpton also urged the US Congress to vote against the $87 billion spending bill requested by the administration for costs in Iraq next year.
“Don’t give Bush $87 billion,” he said. “Don’t give him 87 cents.”
For some, the purpose was more personal than political. Susan Shuman, a representative of Military Families Speak Out, took the podium at the rally to plead with the administration to withdraw US troops immediately.
Her son Justin, a member of the Massachusetts National Guard, has been serving in Iraq since the beginning of the war in March.
“Our children and [Iraqi] children continue to die,” Shuman said.