By MICHAEL SCHREIBER
On April 20, a total of more than 130,000 protesters joined forces in giant demonstrations in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. While many issues were raised at the two cities’ events-including opposition to the U.S. war in Afghanistan and threats of a wider war extending to the Philippines, Iraq, Colombia, and other countries-the major focus was the struggle in Palestine.
In both cities, Palestinian flags waved throughout the crowds, while marchers held up signs declaring “Free Palestine!” and “No U.S. Aid to Israel!” Some chanted, “Bush, Sharon, what do you say? How many kids have you killed today?”
British author, antiwar activist, and socialist Tariq Ali received cheers when he told one of the Washington rallies that “the rogues are in the White House and the rogue state is Israel!” “The real problem in the world is state terrorism,” he added. “And the people who organize that terrorism are in Tel Aviv and their backers are in the White House.”
The major reason why so many people turned out for the April 20 protests can found in the widespread outrage people feel in this country at the Israeli army’s recent atrocities in Jenin and other West Bank towns. The staunch resistance of Palestinians to the Israeli onslaught has awakened a new layer of antiwar activists throughout the world.
In this respect, April 20 echoed the other mass demonstrations against Israeli policies that have taken place worldwide in recent weeks-including rallies of hundreds of thousands of people in countries of the Middle East and Northern Africa.
Despite the huge turnout, prominent Democratic and Republican politicians did not flock to address the April 20 rallies-as they did during the stage-managed pro-Israeli demonstration in Washington five days earlier.
The bloodthirsty tone of the pro-Israeli event was revealed when the crowd repeatedly booed Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, the Bush administration’s emissary to the rally, who, among his remarks praising the Israeli leadership, made brief references to the suffering of “innocent Palestinians.”
On April 20, in contrast, tens of thousands of people-of all ages, religions, and national origins-wore stickers proclaiming, “We are all Palestinians.”
A large percentage of the demonstrators in San Francisco and Washington were of Palestinian and Middle Eastern descent. Whole families attended, from grandparents to small children.
Mosques and Islamic centers in several cities were among the organizations that mobilized people to come to Washington-and which rented hundreds of buses to carry them there. Eight buses came from Chicago alone, including four from the mosques.
April 20 was a great advance for the antiwar movement. It punctured the belief fostered by the big business media that virtually all Americans uncritically support President Bush’s policies in the Middle East-i.e., the dictum that Israel’s war on the Palestinians is justified as part of the “war on terrorism.”
April 20 also revealed the advantages of antiwar and solidarity groups putting aside their political differences when necessary in order to unite in action on key issues on which they agree. The Washington, D.C., event was really four separate rallies joining forces in the face of an undeniable will for unity.
In the morning of April 20, ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), an activist group that is close to the Workers World Party, sponsored a huge rally near the White House, which focused particularly on the Palestinian issue. At the same time, United We March-a coalition of student and youth groups, peace groups, and other organizations, including the Communist Party-held a somewhat smaller rally close to the Washington Monument.
The Mobilization for Global Justice and other activists protested outside the scheduled conferences of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. And finally, the Committee in Solidarity for the People of Palestine demonstrated outside the meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) at the Washington Hilton Hotel.
It would have been unfortunate if these four events had remained separate. However, after many weeks of negotiations-and barely one week before April 20-organizers were able to reach agreement on a proposal to unite at the end of the day in one massive rally in front of the Capitol. And that is what happened.
After their morning rallies had wound up, participants in both the ANSWER and the United We March events marched together as they filled Pennsylvania Avenue. As the marchers passed the Justice Department, they shouted for repeal of the repressive USA Patriot Act, which is being used to detain and victimize many Middle Eastern and Muslim immigrants.
The united rally at the Capitol was chaired by Amy Goodman, host of Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now!” and Randa Jamal, an activist with the Free Palestine Alliance and the Al-Awda Palestine Right to Return Coalition.
Speakers included Egyptian feminist writer Nawal El-Saadawi; the Rev. Lucius Walker, executive director of IFCO/Pastors for Peace; congressional Black Caucus member Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.); Martin Luther King III, Ray LaForest, representing New York City Labor Against War; Julie Beatty president of the U.S. Students Association; and Fadia Rafeedi of the Free-Palestine Coalition-USA.
A taped message from Mumia Abu-Jamal was read to the rallies in both Washington and San Francisco.
According to the organizers for ANSWER, some 100,000 participated overall in Washington on April 20. In San Francisco, where there was a single march and rally (sponsored by ANSWER and supported by dozens of organizations, including Socialist Action) estimates of the crowd generally ranged from 25,000 to 35,000.
April 20 protests took place in other cities in the United States and around the world, including a march of 1500 people in Seattle.