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20,000 Gather in Central Park to Say No to Endless War

by John Tarleton
October 7, 2002

NEW YORK--Twenty thousand people filled the East Meadow of Central Park Sunday afternoon in the largest anti-war demonstration on American soil since the current Iraq crisis began. The event, which marked the 1st anniversary of the U.S.-led bombing of Afghanistan, was one of more than 25 rallies around the U.S. organized by Not In Our Name (NION).

The rally came as the Bush Administration is turning up the heat on Congress to approve a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. People from all walks of life expressed concerns about the U.S. quest for global domination and the possibility of a pre-emptive war.

"We haven't finished what we started in Afghanistan," said Allsion McConnell, a community college student from Farmington, Connecticut. "We should think about whether we should be invading other people and trying to change them to our way of life, which may not work for them."

"I have such a horror that this is going to go on and on," said Mabel Dudeney, 76, a survivor of the 1940-41 Battle of Britain in which much of London was destroyed by nightly German bombing. "Russia is going to go into Georgia. China is going to attack Taiwan. Israel and the Palestinians are going to continue fighting…War settles nothing."

A Pledge of Resistance

Sunday's rally also featured celebrity speakers including Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins and Martin Sheen, hip-hop poet Saul Williams, David Byrne of The Talking Heads, jazz musician Oscar Brown, Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, New York State Senator Tom Duane, and Masuda Sultan, an Afghan-American woman who lost 19 family members in the U.S. bombing of Afghnistan.

"Do we the people really want to be a new Rome that imposes its rule by the use of overwhelming force whenever its interests are threatened?" Sarandon asked. "Even perceived potential threats? We do not want endless warfare."

During the rally, thousands of people took a "Pledge of Resistance". Part of the pledge reads, "Not in our name will you invade countries, bomb civilians, kill more children, letting history take its course over the graves of the nameless."

"There's too many times in history where people have been opposed to something but haven't stopped it," said Miles Solay of NION.

NION was initiated in March of this year as a project of the Revolutionary Communist Party, a Maoist group. NION held much smaller Pledge of Resistance ceremonies on June 6 in about a dozen cities and then continued building toward yesterday's events. Full-page ads were placed in prominent papers like The New York Times. In New York, dozens of spirited young NION members fanned out into schools and subway trains to promote the Pledge. 150,000 leaflets were distributed in the last two weeks alone, according to Jana Astraea of NION. With the drive to war escalating, a small, obscure Leninist party suddenly found itself catalyzing a major anti-war rally that drew broad mainstream support.

"There's many people who knew they weren't the only ones who felt this way and they came here to prove it to the mselves," observed Yale anthropology professor David Graeber.

Ten thousand people attended NION rallies in Los Angeles and San Francisco Sunday and another 5,000 turned out in Chicago. Also on Sunday, 1.5 million people attended anti-war protests that were held in major cities throughout Italy

"Everybody Wants the Same Thing..."

Pat Dunn and Ahmed Nassef of New York brought their son Ali, age 3, to Sunday's event. It was Ali's first big anti-war rally and he quickly came up with his own favorite slogan ("Pee for People!").

"We wonder what kind of world there will be in 10 years and hope he doesn't have to go to another anti-war rally," Dunn said.

Dunn and Nassef were previously living and working in Jordan and saw firsthand the sufferings of Iraqi refugees who had fled years of war and sanctions. They believe that another war would be disastrous for Iraq as well as the United States.

"Everybody wants the same thing-to be able to feed their kids and watch bad sitcoms at night," Dunn said.

The next big anti-war mobilization in the United States will occur Saturday October 26 in Washington, D.C. NION organizers in New York aren't wasting a breath. They will be holding an emergency youth meeting 5:30 p.m. Monday at St. Marys church on 521 West 126th St. to figure out how they want to build on Sunday's success.

"We took the pledge together and we want that to have meaning and content," Astraea said.

Photo by Fred Askew.

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