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October 30, 2002

Rally in Washington Is Said to Invigorate the Antiwar Movement


Emboldened by a weekend antiwar protest in Washington that organizers called the biggest since the days of the Vietnam War, groups opposed to military action in Iraq said they were preparing a wave of new demonstrations across the country in the next few weeks.

The demonstration on Saturday in Washington drew 100,000 by police estimates and 200,000 by organizers', forming a two-mile wall of marchers around the White House. The turnout startled even organizers, who had taken out permits for 20,000 marchers. They expected 30 buses, and were surprised by about 650, coming from as far as Nebraska and Florida.

A companion demonstration in San Francisco attracted 42,000 protesters, city police there said, and smaller groups demonstrated in other cities, including about 800 in Austin, Tex., and 2,500 in Augusta, Me.

"The rally was like a huge gust of wind into the sails of the antiwar movement," said Brian Becker, an organizer of the Washington protest. "Our goal was not simply to have a big demonstration, but to give the movement confidence that it could prevail. The massive turnout showed it's legitimate, and it's big."

Building on those demonstrations, a coalition of groups called International Answer — short for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism — is asking people to vote in a referendum called, which organizers hope will serve as a countervote to the Congressional resolution in support of military action in Iraq.

The coalition, which has absorbed several smaller groups around the country, is also planning another protest on Jan. 18 and 19 in Washington, to coincide with the commemoration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday and the 12th anniversary of the Persian Gulf war. Organizers are also planning what they call a Grass Roots Peoples' Congress to publicize the results of the referendum.

Smaller groups that attended the demonstrations in San Francisco and Washington said they were planning their own protests back home. Protesters plan to march in New Orleans and Tampa, Fla., this weekend; in Charleston, S.C., in mid-November; and again in San Francisco on Nov. 22. A group in Louisiana is planning a peace walk between Baton Rouge and New Orleans at the end of November, and the National Council of Churches is discussing another rally in Washington for Nov. 24. is conducting an online petition drive and has raised about $2 million for candidates, including the late Senator Paul Wellstone, who opposed a war in Iraq.

In California, college students are leading teach-ins against the war at high schools. Richard Becker, an organizer with Answer in San Francisco, said the group was setting up an emergency response plan to accommodate a mass protest — complete with sound systems, placards, the requisite permits and even portable toilets — on the day United States troops enter Iraq.

"There is not going to be one speech or one demonstration, after which everyone goes home," said Barbara Lubin, the founder of the Middle East Children's Alliance in Berkeley, Calif. "This is a movement against war, and it's building momentum."

Those who have been organizing and attending demonstrations for several months said the swelling size of the protests showed how much antiwar sentiment had increased as the threat of war intensified.

In San Francisco, a march on Sept. 6 drew 2,500 people, one two weeks later, 6,000, and one on Oct. 6, 10,000.

"People are very emboldened right now," said Mike Zmolek, an organizer with the National Network to Stop the War in Iraq. "We've been in a financial crunch since we started — suddenly people are sending checks out of nowhere."

Mr. Zmolek said his organization had attracted 100 new antiwar groups across the country in the last three months.

The march in Washington was planned by International Answer, with coordinators of local chapters working in more than two dozen cities around the country. It attracted homemakers as well as college students, seasoned activists and those who had never attended any kind of political rally before.

"It was beautiful," said Merrill Chapman, 35, who called herself "just a housewife" in Charleston, S.C. "I'm in a very conservative town, and I feel like the lone voice. Being in Washington energized me, by seeing I was not alone."

Ms. Chapman had never been to a protest before the demonstration in Washington, but got involved after organizing a group called Thinking People in Charleston. She is planning a rally for Nov. 16 in her city.

In Houston, Lois Wright, a 46-year-old saleswoman in a drapery workroom, said she felt compelled to take the two-day bus ride to Washington, because the Bush administration seemed "hellbent on going to war."

"It's O.K. to do stuff in Houston, but nobody gets to hear about it," she said. "I felt if we were right in their faces, they couldn't ignore us."

Polls show that about 50 percent of Americans support sending ground troops to Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Antiwar organizers acknowledge some public support for military action, but said that until now, the voices of those who do not support the policy have not been heard.

"I think the president has considerable support," Mr. Zmolek said, "but I think the nation is pretty divided on this."

Certainly, there is still debate. In Austin, the University of Texas student government passed a resolution on Oct. 22 opposing an attack, by a vote of 20 to 17. Some students seek to have that vote overturned, saying it does not reflect the sentiment of the campus's 50,000 students.

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