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Antiwar rally draws 2,000 to Lansing

By DANIEL STURM

Last Saturday might well have been a day for the history books. On five continents 12 million people took to the streets to demonstrate against war. Lansing joined 603 cities worldwide under the slogan "Say No to War in Iraq." The statewide Michigan rally organized by the Greater Lansing Network against War in Iraq attracted 2,000 protesters, making it the largest state demonstration since the Vietnam War protests in the early 1970s. David Wiener, assistant to Lansing Mayor Tony Benavides, said the last time he saw such a large crowd was when 800 people rallied against the Ku-Klux Klan in 1994.


Photo: Mark Parker
The statewide Michigan rally organized by the Greater Lansing Network against War attracted 2,000 protesters, making it the largest state demonstration since the Vietnam War protests in the early 1970s. They rallied for three hours in front of Lansing’s Capitol.
Like those 27 KKK members overwhelmed by a crowd swelling over in opposition to them, the coalition for war led by Tony Blair and George W. Bush seems to be trapped in a corner. It’s left itself open to mockery and ridicule by not providing proof of powerful weapons systems in Iraq, and it’s being grilled for its increasingly unpopular "pre-emptive strike" position. After the Feb 15 demonstration in London drawing 1 million people (the biggest public demonstration ever held in Britain), support for Blair’s war plans fell under 10 percent.

Of course, Michigan’s KKK in the early 1990s had considerably less power than Bush and Blair, like the last Neanderthal in Europe.

Pressured by the peace march’s huge turnout and by critique from his own party, Blair admitted for the first time that his premiership was in danger if he couldn’t ride out the storm. The British newspaper, The Observer, most recently referred to him as the "Frankenstein of the protesting classes." The Observer quoted officials imagining a nightmare scenario of Blair and Bush failing to gain a second U.N. resolution, and of the United States going to war without it, dragging Blair behind him in a conflict with no popular support.

Lansing’s 3.6-mile demonstration began at Michigan State University and proceeded up Michigan Avenue, ending at the state Capitol with an incredible amount of noise and energy. People from as far away as Sault Ste. Marie brought trumpets, drums, and signs to the capital. For more than five hours there was dancing, drumming, and chanting, led by the Ann Arbor-based group the Radical Cheerleaders. It was a colorful scene one doesn’t see every day in our sleepy car-town.

About 100 protesters with the Direct Action Faction joined the march from Ranney Skate Park in Frandor. The group, which encouraged graffiti and civil disobedience, broke from the march at Marshall Street and headed toward the Michigan National Guard Armory. Protesters glued signs and banners to the building. The faction continued north on Marshall and then east on Saginaw, causing police to shut down that street as well.


Daniel Sturm/City Pulse
Greater Lansing Network against War in Iraq co-organizer Judith Bommer holds a banner at Beaumont Tower, the rally starting point.
At the podium, speakers, including Jason Lafay, a DeWitt High School English teacher; Marc Reichert; chairman of Michigan’s Green Party; and State Rep. Michael Murphy (D-Lansing), seemed unsurprised to see Michigan becoming a vanguard for peace movement.

Cities like Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Kalamazoo, Traverse City, and Ferndale have all passed antiwar resolutions, and due in large part to Green Party efforts another dozen Michigan cities are currently considering them. including Lansing.

Democratic Party politicians also play an important role in Michigan’s flourishing peace movement. Last Thursday, Rep. John Conyers (D-Detroit), in conjunction with five members of Congress and three members of the military, sued Bush and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld for deciding to invade Iraq without first having a congressional declaration of war. Also last week, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) accused the CIA of purposely sabotaging weapons inspections by assessing that they were unlikely to be a success, and then digging up evidence to ensure they would not be. Citing a number of classified letters he obtained, Levin said it was clear that the CIA had not shared information with the inspectors about a "large number of sites of significant value." Finally, on Feb. 8, state Democrats passed a resolution against the war, after 22 counties presented peace proposals to the Michigan Democratic Party convention in Detroit.

On Saturday, people carried signs and banners, reading "Drop Bush, not bombs," "Disarmageddon is near," "Muzzle the shrub," "No blood for oil," and "Remove empty war heads (Bush/Cheney)."All age groups were represented at the rally, indicating that this peace movement is supported by people who would otherwise not join demonstrations. In the march down Michigan Avenue, the ‘classical’ peace activists were even visibly outnumbered by a mainstream crowd of Gulf War veterans, small business owners, attorneys, doctors, professors, high school students, and families with children.

Lansing’s mayor was apparently touched to see this broad mix of people. In his speech at the Capitol, Benavides wished that the conflict in Iraq "be resolved diplomatically." Benavides also acted diplomatically himself, in not risking to take a clear position against the war. "Whatever the final outcome of the decisions being made in Washington, I believe that we must support the brave men and women who are in the armed forces," he said. Benavides’ statement was drowned out by chants of "Bring them home, bring them home."

The mayor’s speech came two days after City Council members had met to consider passing Lansing’s resolution against the war. Across America, close to 100 cities have now passed peace resolution, some even asking Bush to repeal the Homeland Security and U.S.A. Patriot acts. Activists from the Greater Lansing Network against War in Iraq presented their resolution to the City Council’s Committee of the Whole Thursday. In total, City Council had received antiwar resolutions from the Green Party, an American Civil Liberties Union board member in Lansing from the Greater Lansing Network against War in Iraq.

Some City Council members said at the weekly Committee of the Whole meeting they didn’t feel comfortable taking a stance. At-large Councilman Larry Meyer said, "We’re all peaceful people, and I don’t think people would call us warmongers if we don’t take a vote." His at-large colleague Brian Jeffries, who provides legal services to MSU students, said he was concerned about racial profiling but wasn’t sure if this could be related to the legislation passed after 911. Jeffries also thought that a two-page resolution was too long: "Can’t we simplify it a little bit?" he asked.

But even after a short resolution was suggested, similar to one passed in Traverse City, Jeffries, Meyer and Council President Carol Wood seemed hesitant, and asked for more time. Angry about their reluctance, 2nd Ward Councilwoman Sandy Allen asked: "Larry, what do you need more time for? Are you for or against this war?" Meyer replied that he needed a verification of the facts. The committee decided to set aside a special hour on Thursday, Feb. 20, to analyze the resolution text.

When I jokingly asked Benavides last Friday if the resolution would be voted on before the war began, the mayor seemed genuinely concerned, and said that City Council could vote as soon as Feb. 24.

Another indicator for the growth of the area’s antiwar movement was a Michigan State University discussion forum on Iraq, which attracted more than 400 people. Beth Kangas, a panelist and MSU anthropology professor, outlined why she thought the frequently heard argument of liberating the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein was hypocritical. "If the United States feels compelled to liberate a people from a repressive rule, may those people to be liberated first and foremost be the Palestinians, who live under Israeli occupation and suffer from numerous human rights violations. The inconsistency with which the United States deals with Israel and Iraq does nothing to convince Arabs as to the need for an attack of Iraq," she said.

The British organization Medact estimates that 250,000 Iraqi civilians will die in the event of a coalition attack. The report was confirmed by the United Nations, Medico, the World Health Organization, and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. The experts said that in addition to these deaths related to bombing, 200,000 people would die due to a probable civil war, and an estimated 200,000 due to starvation.

In a recent article for the Egyptian newspaper Ahram Weekly, celebrated humanist Edward Said argued that in all the justified critiques of the U.S. position, an important line of arguments was missed. The planners of this war were "chicken hawks," he said, meaning that they had supported the Vietnam War but had never even served in the armed forces.

Said called current foreign politics "monumentally hypocritical," because literally everything Powell has accused the Iraqi Ba’athists of doing could also be directed at every Israeli government since 1948, "and at no time more flagrantly than since the occupation of 1967." Said mentioned torture, illegal detention, assassination, assaults against civilians, annexation of territory, use of civilians as human shields, humiliation, punishment of families, and killing United Nations personnel. He also criticized the Bush administration for supplying weapons systems to Israel and providing $135 billion in economic aid.

Added Said: "This is an unconscionable record to hold against the U.S., and Mr. Powell as its human symbol in particular. As the person in charge of U.S. foreign policy, it is his specific responsibility to uphold the laws of this country, and to make sure that the enforcement of human rights and the promotion of freedom -- the proclaimed central plank in the US’s foreign policy since at least 1976 -- is applied uniformly, without exception or condition."

Latest news: The Greater Lansing Network Against War in Iraq and other regional pro peace groups consider extending the anti-war demonstrations into the heartlands of Michigan by helping set up 200 local demonstrations in Michigan on March 15.



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