From Bangkok to Barcelona all the way to Crawford, Texas, hundreds of thousands of protesters flooded the streets of more than 60 countries and 200 American cities Saturday to peacefully voice their opposition to U.S. involvement in Iraq on the one-year anniversary of the start of the war.
The Global Day of Action — initiated by the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism) and United for Peace and Justice, and co-sponsored by many Arab and Muslim organizations — mirrored last year's massive international anti-war protests in the weeks leading up to the start of the U.S. military campaign against Iraq.
But without the immediate threat of war that characterized the marches of early 2003, the mission of the protests has changed to reflect the current situation.
"The goal is to bring the troops home now," ANSWER media coordinator Dustin Lengley said, resisting the notion that — with the war already technically fought — the 2004 protests might have been more symbolic than action-oriented. "The U.S. and British governments owe the Iraqi people billions in reparations. [We don't have to] stay there to establish order; they had the Code of Hammurabi, the oldest written law, when George Bush's ancestors were still practicing cannibalism. The idea of Bush teaching them democracy is like Hannibal Lecter on table manners."
This year the crowds were smaller, lacking the urgency of an imminent conflict. But the four regional U.S. marches did draw significant numbers, with more than 100,000 in New York, 50,000 in San Francisco, 20,000 in Los Angeles and 10,000 in Chicago, according to ANSWER organizers.
Lengley also noted an increase in the presence of military families, some with loved ones who've served or died in Iraq, and young people — many of whom, he said, independently coordinated their efforts to recruit attendants and make the trip from college campuses.
Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich, who continues to campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, spoke at the New York rally, and the Reverend Jesse Jackson addressed the thousands in Chicago. "We are a great nation," Jackson said. "We came here because our nation is off course. ... It's time to fight back. Remember in November."
Two protesters in London managed to scale Big Ben's tower to display a "Time for Truth" banner, while organizers in Rome had to begin their march early to alleviate stress on the streets from the estimated 1 million people, Reuters reported. In the wake of the March 11 train bombings in Spain — and Spanish voters' subsequent election of a socialist, vocally anti-war prime minister — Spaniards also made a strong showing.
For more on the situation in Iraq, check out "Conflicts in the Middle East."