Washington, Jan. 19: The ghosts of anti-Vietnam war protests, which radically transformed American society in the 1960s, revisited the US this weekend as this nation observed the 74th birthday of the late Martin Luther King as a national holiday.
From America’s capital here in the east to San Francisco in the west, protesters opposed to unilateral US military action against Iraq marched in Portland, Des Moines, Indianapolis, Albuquerque, Lansing, Montpelier, Houston, Richmond and several cities in California and Florida, including the gates of MacDill Air Force base in Tampa, headquarters of the military’s Central Command, which will direct the war in Iraq.
Women in Montana protested in the nude in a blistering sandstorm and Donna Sheehan, a 72-year-old California artist, is organising women in San Francisco to shed their clothes and assemble to form the words “No war” and “Peace”.
The biggest protest was here in front of the US Capitol, where half a million people, according to unofficial estimates, marched in sub-zero temperatures to a navy yard for a “people’s inspection” of America’s weapons of mass destruction.
They journeyed by bus to the Capitol from places as far away as Minnesota and Maine. Official estimates put the crowd at only 30,000.
Actress Jessica Lange and Ron Kovic, crippled in Vietnam 35 years ago whose story created the movie Born on the Fourth of July, were among the star speakers at the Washington rally.
Folk singer and Vietnam war protest veteran Joan Baez, actress Amy Brenneman and Martin Sheen, who plays the role of the US President in The West Wing TV serial, led the demonstrators in San Francisco, where the city hall opened its doors to the march as sign of official support for anti-war rallies.
Some 35 city councils across America have officially signalled support for anti-war protests, which have suddenly gathered momentum in anticipation of a crucial report to the UN by weapons inspectors in Iraq on January 27.
As in the Vietnam era, the protests had the seeds of dividing American society. Mike Ellis, a graduate of West Point military academy, stood among a handful of pro-war demonstrators in San Francisco. His girlfriend was across the road in an anti-war protest.
among those who want President George W. Bush to call off the war preparations. In Washington, too, three dozen pro-war demonstrators gathered at the Vietnam war memorial.
Thousands of those who joined the protests yesterday were unorganised, having spontaneously decided to join the growing sentiment here against war.
Many marchers brought home-made placards and banners. One poster quoted Bush in a reference to his inconclusive election in 2000 as saying: “Why should I care for what the American people think' They did not vote for me!”
Yet another protester carried a placard saying “regime change should begin here”, a dig at Bush’s constant demand for changing Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.
In San Francisco, a group of women marched dressed as body bags, covered head to toe in black trash bags and black hoods.