WASHINGTON, DC, USA, 29 September 2001 (IslamOnline): A handful of pro-government demonstrators were sidelined by more than 20,000 anti-war protestors during Saturday's rally here opposing the U.S. Government's planned military moves against those it believes responsible for the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Along Pennsylvania Ave., a line of city police in riot gear, some mounted on
horses, protected people on the sidewalk
carrying signs accusing pacifists of being pro-terrorist traitors - one impassioned demonstrator shouted: "I love
America! You hate America!" - but the chanting throng swept past, marching from an earlier rally at Freedom Plaza to a
second near the U.S. Capitol.
"The world is uniting against a terrible evil," said one DC Government
worker who asked to be identified as Roger, "and [the
pacifists] are providing comfort to evil."
But the anti-war demonstrators - a diverse mass of students, families and workers
from all over the nation and from around
the world - demanded, as one placard read, the right to "love America and justice too."
"We're not terrorists because we question the policy of this government,"
said speaker Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, a DC
attorney, to the thousands of demonstrators gathered at Freedom Plaza early in the afternoon. "We're not terrorists because we don't want to give up our civil liberties."
Sharon Ayling, an organizer with the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) coalition formed after September 11th by the New York-based International Action Center (IAC), emphasized the sentiment of ANSWER that the U.S. should not make a military move without proof of guilt, and "the U.S. has not proven who has done it," she said.
"They have lied to us in the past. Why should we believe that they know who perpetrated this terrible tragedy?
"In addition, its U.S. military aggression that will only bring more acts
like this," she added. "The best prevention for
terrorist acts is to change U.S. foreign policy."
Rev. Graylan Hagler, Senior Minister of Washington's Plymouth Presbyterian Church, told the crowd that, "The media has been driving the war machine, but we're here to say today that people who are reasonable stand for justice all over the world!"
A range of speakers protested a range of issues, including racial profiling
and harassment of Muslim- and Arab-Americans,
U.S. foreign policy, U.S. military action in Iraq and bombing practice in Vieques island in the Caribbean. Rally chants of the
crowd marching up Pennsylvania Ave. included cries of "No Justice, No Peace!", "Islam is not the enemy," and "The people
united will never go to war!"
The number of issues dealt with by speakers and protestors irked pro-government demonstrator Roger, who said: "I think this is not a good time for this - bringing in issues that are unrelated and rallying around the war issue."
But Verheyden-Hilliard argued that it was precisely the nature of this time
that made it most vital to air the pro-peace
"This is the most important time to speak we can't let there be any more deaths," she said. "We will not be silenced!"
Over 1,000 individuals and 280 organizations joined the ANSWER coalition, and most of them were represented Saturday, according to organizer Gery Armsby.
In organizing the march and rallies, ANSWER joined forces with the DC-based Anti-Capitalism Convergence (ACC), of which more than 1,000 members marching from Union Station towards the White House were stopped and surrounded by riot police early during the protests, before being released and allowed to join the rest at Freedom Plaza, Armsby said.
The numbers were considerably less than had originally been expected - up to 100,000 - for IAC- and ACC-organized protests against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund meetings initially planned for September 29, but cancelled after the terrorist attacks.
Demonstrator Altaf Hussain, President of the national Muslim Students Association, admitted he was disappointed by the low attendance of Muslims at the peace rally. "We will have to be at the forefront of supporting their efforts," he said.
Some Muslims traveled from as far as Indiana and New York to make their presence known. "It's our duty to come down here as American citizens," said Walaa Abdrabouh, a pharmacy student at St. Johns University in Queens, who came early Saturday morning with about 10 other Muslim friends.
[Copyright © 2001 Islam Online]