March 19: A Day of Protests Against Iraq War

March 19, 2009
By Jennifer Mascia and Jason Grant
New York Times

On the eve of the sixth anniversary of the United States' invasion of Iraq, hundreds of protesters in New York City made it clear on Thursday that while they welcomed the change in American political leadership, they would not relent in urging President Obama to accelerate the withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq.

The protests were perhaps more muted than the massive demonstrations of years past, but no less fervent.

In Union Square, where about 120 people huddled together under the awning of a subway station, staying out of the rain, some protesters said that Mr. Obama, the new president, who as an Illinois state senator had opposed the war, had continued some of the Bush administration's most controversial policies.

Debra Sweet, 57, one of the protest organizers, said the Obama administration had continued the policy of secret renditions of terrorism suspects, and she called for "righteous anger at this occupation." Many in the crowd were high-school students.

"We're not putting everything on Obama, whether it be hope or condemnation," she said of the new president. She said of the high-school students around her: "They understand they have no voice. They're too young to vote but they will be the ones to foot the bill for this war and they know it."

Another protester, Sonsara Taylor, said she was also angered by American policies on Gaza and Pakistan and called for the investigation, and possible prosecution, of members of the Bush administration who argued for the Iraq war.

Matthis Chiroux, a 25-year-old Army veteran from Alabama who said he has served in Germany, Japan and Afghanistan, but faced disciplinary proceedings because he refused to serve in Iraq, expressed impatience with the new president.

"Obama's policies just confirmed to me that the president may have changed, but the war is the same," Mr. Chiroux said. "Just because we have a black president now, doesn't mean that we don't have a racist war."

Elsewhere in the crowd, a group of men rapped together into a microphone, "Show me what democracy looks like." An elderly woman looked up at the heavens and implored, "Why must it rain on our parade."

Meanwhile, in Times Square in the late afternoon, about 25 antiwar protesters stood in front of the Armed Forces Career Center, some of them carrying signs that read, "Stop Occupation and Torture for Empire! The World Can't Wait!" Others wore black garb and white, ghostly-looking masks, solemnly held up signs listing the number of citizens killed in both war-torn countries.

Masked Protests of War
"We haven't closed our eyes to what's going on," said Heather LaMastro, 33, a protester. "Change of administration doesn't mean anything to us, really, because we're seeing the same policies carried over." For instance, she said, President Obama has continued enforcement of the Patriot Act, and has altered the time frame he'd promised for for removing troops from Iraq.

The antiwar demonstrations were not the only protests of the day. Around 4:30 p.m., 100 to 150 people gathered in Lower Manhattan around 70 Pine Street, the headquarters of the American International Group, to protest the bonuses the troubled insurance giant, which is mostly owned by the government, has given to executives.


Photo Credit: Justin Lane/European Pressphoto Agency

The protesters, who also chanted slogans outside the Goldman Sachs building, stood in front of the A.I.G. tower for 20 minutes, while organizers from the Service Employees International Union gave a speech. People shouted: "A.I.G.! Shame on you!"

John Adler, who studies private equity firms for the union, said in an interview: "We're here to say to A.I.G. and Goldman Sachs and other bailout banks, "You can't take bailout money and hand it to executives.'"

Kwame Patterson, 28, a spokesman for the union, added: "We're not aiming it at everybody in the building. We're aiming it at the institution. This is aimed at the executives who were irresponsible in the first place."

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World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.