by Anh Pham
all photos by Anh Pham
As one of the organizers in the Anti-War Committee (AWC), I traveled by bus to the national protest against the war in Iraq in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 24. There we were joined by thousands of others across the country who are protesting the war and the ongoing occupation of Iraq. The AWC is an all-volunteer group that was founded out of a civil disobedience against U.S. war moves against Iraq in 1998. My first protest ever was against the Persian Gulf War in 1991, so for many reasons Iraq is very important to me.
a Vietnamese-American I have felt the effects of war on my family and my community.
I’ve seen my grandfather separated from his wife and children for more
than 15 years. Though I was too young to remember my country or the war in Vietnam,
I have felt the pain of my family and other families that have been torn from
our homes due to war. War is destructive for all involved, not just those whose
land it is fought for. But for those who see their homes destroyed, their family
members and neighbors killed, the damage is huge. We are lucky that most of
us in this country have not had to live through a war on our land. Many felt
terror on 9/11. What if 9/11 happened every day? This is what war is. We should
not enter war and occupation lightly. We need to keep asking ourselves, is this
justice? And if it isn’t—we must speak out against it.
This protest comes at a time when the anti-war movement is growing. Several
peace and justice organizations from the Twin Cities sent busloads to this protest
for a total of nine buses filled with about 400 protesters. Many, many others
drove or flew out to join us in protesting this war.
Friday, Sept. 23
a.m. The press conference is over and we are getting ready to drive out
of town. The speakers reflect a good example of the cross section of the people
that will be there. We have a veteran of the Persian Gulf War, a young college
student who has family in the military and a number of more seasoned anti-war
activists. The protests of today are more inclusive and diverse than those of
even years ago. That being said, the anti-war protests are still overwhelmingly
white, but that is also changing as the growing anti-war movement is reflecting
the changing U.S. population.
10:24 a.m. Since we will be spending so much time together we are going
around and doing introductions of ourselves and why we are going to this protest.
We have a pretty wide mix of people; a lot of first-time protesters, a number
of high school students, welfare rights activists, teachers, trade union activists
and experienced protesters who’ve been going to protest since the ’60s.
I am constantly reminded of how inspiring I find these trips. I know that we
don’t always feel like we have a lot of power as individuals, but I know
we have strength in our numbers. The people on this bus are one of the reasons
why despite the discomforts, I come back time and time again. To see first-time
activists who say that this protest in Washington, D.C., is their first protest
ever and knowing that this trip might inspire them to become lifelong activists
or to build work in their school, workplace or community to oppose unjust wars
makes the work leading up to this always worth it. Seeing the experienced activists
who have been protesting for decades inspires me that we will continue to have
our elders that will pass on their knowledge and experience and that no matter
how many protests you’ve been to, there is always more to learn.
11:07 a.m. We’ve just heard from our drivers that there are more
than 50 coach buses from Minnesota and Wisconsin alone that are driving to the
protest in Washington. This is the largest number of buses I remember hearing
of going to such a protest.
p.m. (EST) We’ll be stopping for dinner soon. We had just met up a
few hours ago in Madison with a busload of students. Whoever wants to tell me
that there is no student anti-war presence needs to go on this trip. Students
are here and they are an important part of the anti-war movement. Considering
the number of people who have told me that this is their first protest ever,
I’m convinced our movement is just going to keep growing.
I’m sitting here talking to a member of our committee who has friends
from Louisiana. Our conversation inevitably returns to Hurricane Katrina and
what has and hasn’t happened there. We talk about the groups and people
that would be mobilizing for this protest from the south if only they weren’t
caught up with disaster relief.
p.m. We’re currently watching a movie about Cuba on the bus …
we are talking about how different Cuba is now from how it must have been before
the revolution. It made me remember my trip there and the warmth and happiness
of the people. It’s so different from the U.S. and another committee member
who had been there has often talked about how it is so different from its Caribbean
neighbors. As an island country, Cuba has weathered many hurricanes with none
of the devastation like the U.S. has recently endured. It reminds me of the
comment earlier by one of our riders that the thing that motivates her to be
on this trip is that she is angry at this government for refusing aid from Cuba
and Venezuela for New Orleans. This government can’t take care of its
own people, yet it’s more than willing to impose its own brand of imperialism
all over the world. I am remembering the sign I saw outside of Mayday Bookstore
the night before I left: “Forget about the quagmire in Iraq, he can’t
even solve the quagmire at the end of your driveway!” George Bush perhaps
you should be in the White House this weekend and look outside, but I’m
pretty sure you’ll be hiding from us.
Saturday, Sept. 24
a.m. (EST) We are just leaving the Breezewood reststop, the usual reststop
for these trips. There we met people from Cincinnati, Chicago, Flint …
it seems like the entire Midwest has turned out for this. Many on the bus are
tired. Riding a bus almost 24 hours straight with only two stops is harder than
it sounds. But the sound that greeted me when I walked out of the usually too
long women’s bathroom line was great—“We say what? We say
no to war!”—with that spirit I got back on the bus to go to Washington,
just two hours away.
10:34 a.m. We have just arrived in Washington at the protest drop-off
site. Immediately we are greeted by one of the protest committee organizers
with instructions of where to go. As we walk toward the Ellipse, where the protest
is taking place, groups of people are asking each other, “Where are you
from?” The atmosphere is very energetic and friendly. We make our way
through the massive crowd to where we had planned to meet other groups, and
set up a location that will be our “base” for the protest. People
have left to sell buttons and distribute newspapers and literature. Most people
are using this time to talk to other protesters and getting to know the work
of different groups.
1:45 p.m. The march had just started but had stopped suddenly. I walked
up to investigate what was preventing us from moving forward and there was a
row of police cars that had decided to drive right through the protest. Since
we have a permit for this protest and route I can’t help but be suspicious
of the timing of this. Further up I see a row of cops on horses and have a surge
of sympathy for the horses.
2:17 p.m. We have only made it past the first turn of this protest and
protesters are filling up the entire width of the street and sidewalks. Looking
back at the Ellipse I can still see people lining up in the park to join the
march, and in front of me there are protesters stretching for blocks ahead and
out of my line of sight. I know that organizers had hoped for at least 100,000
but I’m pretty sure we surpassed that by far. If I had a good aerial photo
I could estimate the numbers but I cannot confirm my half million guess.
4:32 p.m. The march has just ended. I spoke with the people from our
trip who stayed in the Ellipse and saw the march go by and they concur with
my estimate of possibly half a million. We’re hoping some real counts
will come out soon.
8:37 p.m. We’re back on the road. People are exhausted but happy.
We’re settling in for the night with a movie before our last dinner stop
for the evening.
8:21 a.m. (CST) We have woken up to find ourselves in Chicago! This
trip has gone by really quickly and we’re excited to get home and start
working harder locally.
11:23 a.m. We just did a go around to see what people found most inspiring
about the trip and protest, and some of the comments that stayed with me the
most were that it seems like the movement has gotten more radical with the connections
that are being made between Iraq and other struggles, especially struggles like
ones in Palestine and Venezuela and the domestic struggles like Hurricane Katrina
and its effects. The
other thing that was said a lot was the inspiration that we derived from each
other. One bus rider met a woman from New Orleans who gave him a necklace when
he complimented her on it. It moved him a lot that someone who went through
that experience still took the time to make someone else’s day brighter
and this was a part of the spirit of the protest that he saw.
4:23 p.m. We are back in Minnesota. Despite being tired I am surprisingly
energized. One of our bus riders said that this trip has given her the energy
to organize for the next months. She is right. Most people would think it was
crazy to sit on a bus for 48 hours to attend a protest that lasted less than
eight hours. In my opinion this is not as crazy as the policies of this administration
that seems to have no regard for the lives and well being of most of this country’s
(or any other country’s) inhabitants. As an anti-war activist, I’ve
seen the changes in our movement. I’ve seen it rise to the challenge it
has been given. As attempts are made to dehumanize and depict these wars—fought
for corporate greed—as nothing other than video games on your television
screen, the anti-war movement has had to become more human. It has grown beyond
the one-issue causes.
are no longer getting involved in only the wars that touch home, they are seeing
the connections between the wars. There is a connection between the occupation
of Iraq and Palestine, between Colombia and Venezuela— just as there is
a connection between the wars abroad and the war against poor communities and
communities of color at home. One of our bus drivers for this trip thanked us
for the opportunity to travel with us and to learn about the anti-war movement.
He was one more person that we reached. This I see as our task. To reach one
person at a time, get them to hear us and to build this movement until we can
get the country and this administration to end the occupation of Iraq. Until
then we will keep protesting and keep speaking out. ||