Just over a week ago, 134 people from Wisconsin and Minnesota on three buses undertook the journey to Washington, D.C. to join with thousands of others to voice their protest to the Iraq war. These buses were organized jointly by the Northland Anti-War Coalition (Duluth, MN) and Peace North (Hayward, WI). Additionally from our region, three Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice buses went from Madison, one bus was organized by Peace Action from Milwaukee, and dozens of other people from the region took vans, cars or other modes of Transportation.
The NAWC/Peace North buses hosted people from all over the region, including Duluth, Superior, Ashland, Hayward, Rice Lake, Eau Claire, La Crosse, Winona, Wasau, Green Bay, Milwaukee, the Twin Cities area, and outliers from as far west as Detroit Lakes, MN. Riding along were reporters from WOJB, Wisconsin Public Radio, and the Wasau Daily Herald, and bus riders met with other media at some pick-up points and in D.C. The bus riders were of all ages, from 16 months to over 70, and from all different backgrounds. But they all came together for the same cause: to demand that this senseless war be brought to an end, that Congress cut funding for the war, and that the troops be brought home now.
Two of the three buses made it to Washington on time. Unfortunately, the third bus broke down and it took some time for the passengers to find another bus that could take them to Washington. They made to Washington toward the tail end of the March. Many, however, still said that they considered it a worthwhile trip, and would do it again (though hopefully next time with a better bus).
When the bus riders got to Washington, they joined the throng of over 100,000 protesters on the National Mall in front of the Capitol. The protest, which was organized by United for Peace and Justice, featured a two-hour rally and about a three-mile march around the Capitol building. The demands were to cut funding for the war and bring the troops home.
The speakers at the rally were fairly tame, but reflected the sentiments of those present. Speakers included celebrities such as Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon and Jane Fonda, as well as political figures including Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, Jesse Jackson, and war
resister Lt. Ehren Watada, who faces courtmartial for refusing deployment to Iraq. At the same time, protesters had an opportunity to peruse many literature tables set up by various groups.
The march was calm but determined. Several people reflected afterwards on how powerful it felt to be in the presence of so many of like mind, all protesting for peace, in solidarity with the majority of Americans and Iraqis. There was a large presence of military families at the protest, who testified to the falseness of the claim that those who protested the war did not support the troops. Many of the soldiers currently serving in Iraq have been called back for a second or third tour of duty or had their tours extended, while their families’ lives are interrupted by their absence. The protesters were supporting the troops by demanding their return to their homes and families.
At one point along the march route, about a dozen counter-protesters held signs that read “Hippies Smell” and “Money for Bombs, Not Welfare”. By contrast, some of the anti-war protesters’ signs included “Iraq Escalation: Wrong Way”, “Out of Iraq Now”, and the ever popular “Impeach Bush”.
After the march, some representatives from the Northland Anti-War Coalition met with other Minnesotans who would be staying until Monday to meet with congressional representatives. A scroll addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asking to bring the troops home, which had gathered signatures and messages from people in the Duluth/Superior region, was handed off to these activists, who then took it to the office of Rep. Jim Oberstar, with instructions that it should be passed on to Pelosi.
In the evening, the protesters from Minnesota and Wisconsin took the train out of the city and met back at the buses for the long trip home. After nearly 48 hours on a cramped bus, the end of the trip got a little zany. But the long ride gave people the opportunity to become familiar with each other and to share many valuable conversations and stories. Perhaps surprisingly, there were very few complaints from riders about the trip. Some were even gung-ho to do it again.
There will undoubtedly be opportunity for this. We need to build the movement to really challenge the warmakers, so that next time there is double, triple, or quadruple the turnout. The American people are outraged about the war, but if they want it to stop, they’ll have to
get organized. Together, we can stop the war machine, but it will take a lot more work, a lot more marches, and perhaps a lot more long bus rides to make it happen.
The next opportunity for large-scale protest will be March 17. There will be a march on the Pentagon, and local protests in recognition of the fourth anniversary of the invasion, including a protest in Duluth. To find out more, contact the Northland Anti-War Coalition by going to http://www.myspace. com/nawc, or e-mail mnsocialist@ yahoo.com, or call (715) 394-6660. For information on Peace North’s activities, you can visit their website at http://www.peacenorth. org.
Here are some comments from bus riders:
“The best part of the trip for me was going to DC for the first time ever and doing something. I have wanted to do [that] for a long time.” -Brian Melendez, Rice Lake
“The bus ride is hard. But worth it.” -Carol Hannah, Hayward
“Since the trip I am always thinking of what I can do to raise the awareness of people in the community. I am going to plaster a 1986 Volvo wagon I own with bumper sticker I picked up in DC. It’s a start!” -Marty McGraw, Dassel, MN
“I loved the fact that we had such a great group from this neck of the woods. I loved being surrounded by like minded people. I was so proud of us all.” -Jennifer Hartling, Hayward
“Knowing there are so many others out there who know the truth, and are working to stop the insanity, helps one to survive the feeling of hopelessness.” -Chloe Manz, Brule
[the above report was written by Carl Sack]