40,000-75,000 protested in Washington DC on April 20th against Bush’s “War on Terrorism” and its possible extension to Iraq, US aid to Colombia, the School of the Americas, and the annual meeting of the IMF and World Bank. There were also solidarity demonstrations in San Francisco with 15,000 participating and over 1,000 in Seattle.
This was the largest anti-war rally in the US since the Gulf War in 1991. It was also the biggest protest against corporate globalization since the 50,000 strong demonstration against the WTO in Seattle in 1999. Notably, it was the first national demonstration in US history in solidarity with the Palestine masses.
The dominant theme overall was opposition to the Israeli military’s incursions into the occupied territories in Palestine, as well as the US government’s economic and political support for the Israeli government.
Samir Haleem, a Palestinian-American veteran, stated in The Nation that “We have never seen so much support for Palestine in this country. Today is a beautiful day.” The demonstration on the main day, Saturday, was entirely peaceful. Over the four days of protest there were only 65 arrests – mainly stemming from non-permitted direct actions.
There was massive participation in the demonstrations by the Arab-American, Arab immigrant, and Muslim communities in the demonstrations. This is crucial in the post 9/11 period, when the trend has been the systemic scapegoating, harassment, violence, and racist legalization (such as the Patriot Act) against Arab and Muslim people in the US.
It ushered the entry of these communities onto the political radar screen through speaking out against the “War on Terrorism” and in support of the Palestine struggle in the Middle East. As Amal K. David, a Palestinian-American protester, stated “We are here because we want to do something, to send a message.” (Washington Post 4/21/02)
Throughout the day there were many examples of Palestinian and Jewish people with arms locked in solidarity, based on the commonality of supporting Palestinian rights and opposing the Sharon government’s war.
However, among the protesters there were some reactionary and fundamentalist elements, with signs that read “Chosen People: It’s Payback Time” and signs with the Star of David next to Swastikas and SS symbols. These slogans point the blame at the Jewish people as a whole, rather than the real criminals – Sharon and the Israeli ruling class. Rather than exposing the state terror of the Israeli government, they only alienate many people who could be potentially won over to opposing Sharon and his war on the Palestinians.
As the 10,000-strong protest against the World Economic Forum in February was an indication of the strength of the anti-corporate-globalization movement, so was April 20th a continuation of the anger at corporate greed and its effects on human and labor rights, the environment, and the ex-colonial world. The slogans at the April 20th protest ranged from a 30-foot-tall inflated Earth bearing a “For Sale” sign, to the Citibank logo being erected to “Drop Debt, Not Bombs.”
In October there will be another round of IMF and World Bank meetings taking place. It will be important to be there and continue the mass mobilizing. This upcoming protest will especially need (which was a missing element to the DC demonstration compared to the April 2000 demonstration against the IMF and World Bank) is the participation of the labor movement. This is even more important due to the fact that the AFL-CIO is maintaining the position of supporting Bush’s “War on Terrorism,” in the name of “National Unity”.
Socialist Alternative helped build for and participated in the April 20th demonstrations, explaining the need to combine the different issues of the movement into a critique of the root of the various problems: global capitalism. We put forward the need for a socialist alternative as the only way to truly end the misery of poverty, war, and racism. As part of the struggle to advance these ideas within the movement, Socialist Alternative members sold 524 copies of Justice newspaper.
Justice #30, June 2002