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Groups Gearing Up For Massive Antiwar Protests

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From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
http://www.btlonline.org
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Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Nov. 3, 2003
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Protesters Once Again Fill the Streets to Oppose Bush Iraq War and Occupation

Interview with Leslie Cagan, national coordinator of United for Peace and Justice, conducted by Scott Harris

Listen in RealAudio: http://www.btlonline.org/cagan110703.ram

After an absence of more than seven months from the nation's streets, opponents of the Bush administration's war on Iraq came together again by the tens of thousands on Oct. 25 in Washington D.C., San Francisco and dozens of other communities around the U.S. The rallies, jointly sponsored by two major coalitions (UFPJ & International ANSWER) which had organized a series of powerful protests before the start of the war earlier this year, called for an end to the occupation of Iraq and to bring the troops home now. Organizers of the largest protest in the nation's capital said that 100,000 demonstrators attended the event, while park police estimated the crowd at half that number.

While the size of these protests clearly did not match those of several giant pre-war rallies in New York and Washington, organizers said they had exceeded their expectations and predict that the movement opposing the occupation would continue to grow. The diversity of the crowd reflected concern about the ongoing conflict in Iraq across generations, with both young people and those who had participated in Vietnam War era protests marching side by side.

The presence at the protest of military veterans and family members of soldiers now serving in Iraq indicated growing alarm at the numbers of U.S. casualties in the war that was launched last March. Since the conflict began, 350 U.S. soldiers have been killed -- with 211 dying after the president declared an end to major hostilities in May and thousands more wounded. Receiving less publicity are the large numbers -- possibly more than 10,000 Iraqis -- who have been killed in the war thus far. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Leslie Cagan, national coordinator of United for Peace and Justice, a co-sponsor of the Oct. 25 protest. She describes the recent rallies for peace and renewed activism opposing the U.S. military occupation of Iraq.

Leslie Cagan: United for Peace and Justice, one of the major national anti-war coalitions --with about 650 different groups -- we were one of the co-sponsors, along with International ANSWER, of a march on Washington, D.C., as well as a major demonstration in San Francisco and then many, many dozens of cities around the country and around the world picked up the call also and also took people to the streets.

In Washington, we had upwards of 100,000 people, which far exceeded, I think, any of our expectations. Probably most significant for many of us was the fact a very large contingent of people from military families -- that is, people who have relatives, often sons and daughters but other relatives as well now serving in the military and many, many of them serving in Iraq or in that theater of operations -- that very large contingent, as well as a very large presence of veterans, all of whom came together to join the thousands of other people to say, "It's time to end the occupation of Iraq and bring the troops home." We think, we know, we sent a very powerful message not only to the Bush administration and to the Congress, but to the people of this country and people around the world that this demand is a critically important one, but also we very much communicated that the anti-war movement is alive, vibrant and strong and committed to doing the work that needs to be done.

Between The Lines: One of the messages coming out of the rally was to bring the troops home. And it was interesting. I heard one of the big three radio networks in their coverage of the Washington march to stop the war, and they described the message coming out of the Oct. 25 rally as a call "to abandon Iraq" -- very highly charged words and a description. How do you respond to those who say that pulling out U.S. forces now from Iraq, would be a recipe for disaster both for Iraq and the United States?

Leslie Cagan: Well, you know that's been said before in other situations. People said during the Vietnam era, "We can't leave because there would be a nightmare, there'd be a bloodbath." And in fact when the U.S. left Vietnam that's when the war ended and the bloodbath stopped.

Anybody who thinks that things are peaceful and calm and life has gotten back to normal for the Iraqi people is just not aware of what's really going on there. You know life is far from normal - almost every day, literally every day -- we see reports of U.S. troops and service people being attacked, being sabotaged, being ambushed, whatever. We believe that the responsibility of our government should be to take the troops out, turn control of the Iraqi government and the Iraqi resources back to the Iraqi people.

If the Iraqi people ask for assistance from us or from other governments of the world, then by all means we should give them assistance. We, especially the U.S. government, has caused tremendous damage, not only through this war, but also through the first Gulf War 13 years ago, and through the many, many years -- over a decade -- of sanctions against Iraq. So, yes I don't think we have any problem with saying that U.S. aid to Iraq should be considered, should be given.

But this $87 billion that Congress is about to sign over to the president is not for the re-building of Iraq, it's for the maintenance of a military occupation. You can't rebuild a country, you can't move to creating democratic institutions and getting life back to normalcy under the yoke of a military occupation. So we think it's in both the short term and long term interests of the Iraqi people to end the military occupation.

Between The Lines: Leslie, what are the plans for the coming year by your coalition, United For Peace and Justice and other groups working against the U.S. occupation?

Leslie Cagan: Well, we're going to do our best to keep the pressure on, to try and really bring this occupation to a speedy end and bring the troops home. We have, of course. a full agenda as United For Peace and Justice. Our next kind of major mobilization will be in Miami at the end of November around the FTAA meetings, Free Trade Area of the Americas. One of the priorities for UFPJA this year is to really help people see the links between corporate globalization and militarism and the rush to war by the Bush administration -- all under kind of the banner or the unifying theme of empire building, or from our point of trying to stop the empire building agenda of the Bush administration.

We're also looking forward, United for Peace and Justice has already put out a hold the date call for March 20. March 20, 2004 will be the one year anniversary of the beginning of the war against Iraq, so we're planning now some efforts, it may be more decentralized -- not necessarily a march on Washington or a march on New York City -- but a slightly more decentralized effort to really mark that day by putting people out on the streets again.

And of course, more long term we’re looking ahead to the Democratic party convention in July up in Boston and the Republican party convention here in New York City in August next year. During the election year, we think it's very vital that we address the many, many issues that are of concern to our communities and push those, so that those people who are running for office have to take a stand one way or another.

To contact United for Peace and Justice, call (212) 868-5545 or visit their website at http://www.unitedforpeace.org

Related links on our website at http://www.btlonline.org for the week ending 11/7/03

-International ANSWER website: www.internationalanswer.org

-Independent Progressive Politics Network: www.ippn.org

-"In D.C., A Diverse Mix Rouses War Protest"

-"The Axis of Oil: How a Plan for the World's Biggest Pipeline Threatens to Wreak Havoc"

-"Why Are We Back in Vietnam?"

-"Iraq Resistance Lasting Longer Than Expected, Powell Concedes"

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Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on over 30 radio stations. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines ( http://www.btlonline.org), for the week ending Nov. 7, 2003. Between The Lines Q&A is compiled by Scott Harris and Anna Manzo.

PRINT INFORMATION: For reprint permission, please email betweenthelines@snet.net.


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