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Protests echo across America

Los Angeles, Oct. 7: Thousands of protesters opposed to a war in Iraq converged today as part of a coordinated national effort that stretched from New York City’s Central Park to San Francisco’s Union Square and spots in at least a dozen other cities.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department Lieutenant Pat Jordan estimated the crowd at the Federal Building in Los Angeles at about 3,000 but a California Highway Patrol officer, overseeing the peaceful rally and march, put the number at “well above” the group’s permit for 3,500. Organisers pegged the turnout at 10,000.

The rallies, pulled together by an umbrella group called the “Not in Our Name Project”, were timed to coincide with the eve of the one-year anniversary of the beginning of bombing in Afghanistan.

While polls have generally shown support for the Bush administration’s actions since the September 11 terrorist attacks, and for a war on Iraq with allied and UN support, the weekend’s well-coordinated events indicate the presence of a national dissent movement.

Central Park’s event, where actor Martin Sheen spoke, drew more than 10,000 people, San Francisco’s drew thousands and a Chicago demonstration attracted more than 1,000. On Saturday, a companion rally in Portland, Oregon, drew an estimated 5,000.

In Los Angeles, protesters toted signs from the straightforward, “Don’t Invade Iraq”, to the snide, “No, It’s Not Iraq. It’s the Economy. We’re not Stupid.” Protesters said they hope to send a strong message to Congress and fellow Americans that opposition to a war is alive, and expressing it is a form of patriotism.

The crowd was packed with the regulars of progressive rallies: tattooed students pounding drums, Green Party activists promoting their candidates and the more radical Revolutionary Communist Progressive Labor Party distributing newspapers.

But the rally also drew first-time demonstrators who said they are deeply concerned about the implications of a war and feel their voice has not been heard.

Bush is expected to make his case for a war on Iraq, which he says has developed weapons of mass destruction, in a televised speech today.

“Not in Our Name” was born out of a meeting last March in New York. Since then, nearly 20,000 artists, intellectuals and musicians have signed a “Statement of Conscience” against the Bush administration’s resolve to wage war on Iraq, “a country which has no connection to the horror of September 11”.

The statement also decries the Patriot Act, which gave the government greater latitude to curtail civil liberties

in the name of the war on terrorism.

The lengthy list of signatories on the statement,

which was published in full-page advertisements in The

New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, include

Edward Asner, Barbara Kingsolver, Eve Ensler, Tony

Kushner, Alice Walker, Steve Earle, Laurie Anderson,

and Noam Chomsky.

At the events across the country Sunday, demonstrators

recited a ``Pledge of Resistance'' against war,

roundups of immigrants and infringements of civil

liberties.

A recent Washington Post-ABC poll showed that three in

five Americans favoured using force to get rid of

Saddam Hussein. But 47 percent opposed such a move

without the support of our allies (46 percent approved

it) and 52 percent of those polled said they feared

Bush would move too quickly to challenge Saddam. Other

polls have reflected greater dissent.

And many Democratic members of Congress have said that

calls, letters and e-mails from constituents have

overwhelmingly opposed a war.

Organisers drew on a network of labor, religious,

student and other activist organisations. Among the

speakers was Ron Kovic, the Vietnam War veteran who

wrote ``Born on the Fourth of July'' and has become an

outspoken peace activist.

Steve Boise, 43, wore a hard hat emblazoned with the

U.S. flag and the name of his union local to let

people know hat ``blue collar America is talking about

this at work.''

A pipefitter, Boise said he and his co-workers have

spent hours discussing a potential war in Iraq and

have decided ``it's all about controlling oil in the

Caspian Sea ... This just doesn't make any sense to

us.''

Boise said he attended because ``it feels like our

views aren't being expressed. ...I don't understand

the doublespeak,'' he said. ``Patriotic now means,

`Sit down and shut up.'''

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