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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

UMB Activists Join NYC Rally

UMB Activists Join NYC Rally

Thirty-four UMass students gathered on a frigid spring dawn to board a bus to New York City last Saturday, March 20. Yawning, stretching, and hauling bags of provisions, pillows, and a 12-foot canvas banner that read, “UMass Boston-No Blood for Oil” in red, white, and blue, the group was off to join an estimated 70,000 marchers to protest the war in Iraq, which marked its one year anniversary on March 20.

The march and rally in New York was a smooth success, with none of the clashes with police that marked a similar protest one year ago, and aside from one group of dissenters, the protesters sent a consistent anti-war, anti-Bush message.

The rally and the march were organized by A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), a broad-based international protest coalition with an agenda to “end a century of U.S. military interventions,” which covers a number of issues. Placards and protesters from a variety of groups were seen, including a large number of Dennis Kucinich supporters, Free Palestine marchers, Vietnam veterans, and Mumia Abu-Jamal supporters. The message was clear, however; participants felt that the Bush administration had lied about its reasons for going into Iraq, and they wanted the United States out of the Middle East.

The all day trip, which cost participants $10 apiece for the bus ride, was subsidized by the Student Senate, hosted by the Socialist Alternative, and chartered with Crystal Transport, the same company that runs the shuttle buses. The trip was organized by the March 20 Mobilization Committee and UMass student Patrick Ayers, president of the Socialist Alternative.

The idea behind the bus ride was to offer cash-strapped UMass students an affordable way to participate in the anti-war protests, which Ayers feels are crucial. “I think there should be anti-war councils in every town, city, and campus. March 20 provided a great opportunity.”

The bus ride cost $1400, and the Student Senate picked up $910 of that, enabling the committee to sell tickets to students for $10 each. The tickets proved popular; all 50 tickets were sold out by the week of spring break.

Jay Dubois, an archeology student at UMB, said that he came along because, “I protested this before the war” and in his view, protest was still important. Dubois summed up the sentiment on the bus when he said, “I think it’s heinous. [Bush] perpetrated it with lies, and it’s not his kids who are dying.”

The day was uneventful compared to the violence seen at last year’s rally and the police managed the crowds using portable steel fencing to block off sidewalks and cross streets. The mayor’s office put the number of marchers at 33,000, claiming that the pre-march rally filled eleven blocks at 3,000 protesters per block. However, A.N.S.W.E.R. spokeswoman Amy Goodman claimed 100,000 participants, saying the march filled 45 blocks. On-scene estimates put the real figure somewhere in the middle.

The diverse crowd and imaginative displays of some marchers lent the day a grim carnival-like air. A group dressed as Knights Templar shepherded a rendition of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, with each “horseman” labeled as a member of the Bush administration. Several brass bands were in the crowd, including New Orleans-style jazz players that traditionally march at the front of a funeral. A perky bunch of punk rock cheerleaders chanted anti-Bush slogans and a group of women dressed in clown makeup cheerfully informed the crowds that they were “from the heart of America.”

Many of the banners were much less whimsical; one man, wearing a fatigue jacket and a “Vietnam Vet” button, carried a bed sheet that urged U.S. troops in Iraq to mutiny. Another sign read, “Where are you, John Kerry?”

Other paraphernalia reinforced the conviction that the current administration is dishonest. “Bush lied – Who died?” signs and stickers were popular. One man carried a sign that read, “The New Pentagon Papers,” a reference to a tell-all article at salon.com by former State Department staffer Karen Kwiatkowski. He said, “[Bush] moved intelligence analysts out so he could move his own crew in and generate bogus info!”

Kucinich, still running for president despite have gathered a mere handful of delegates, was a prominent speaker at the rallies, saying it was time “for all of us to come together, work together, and beat Bush in November!”

An enormous public address amplifier on every block of Madison Avenue made the streets echo with the voices of the rally, including that of Fernando Suarez, the father of the first U.S. casualty in Iraq. Suarez spoke out against the war at UMass Boston before spring break.

Other speakers included Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam. Farrakhan has come under fire for making racially charged accusations against Jews, but he stressed unity in New York, quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. and saying, “We are all here to end the U.S. oppression against the peoples of the world.”

Pointing out the multi-level agenda of the rally, Amy Goodman broadcasted a recorded message from ousted Haitian President Jen-Bertrand Aristide. Goodman said that Aristide had been “kidnapped” by U.S. forces, and that the administration was currently occupying Haiti. The island nation recently overthrew Aristide and a handful of U.S. troops are in Haiti’s capital city of Port-au-Prince.

American policies towards Cuba, Israel, Venezuela, and many countries in Africa also came under fire by speakers and marchers.

Some felt that the many messages in the rally were distracting from the real reason for the protest. UMass Boston bus traveler Ben Janos shouted over the noise of the crowd, “I really disagree with the ideology of integration out here right now…I mean, I’m out for the same reasons everyone else is: tuition is going up, bombs are dropping!

“Look at all these departments,” Janos continued, “There’s the ‘Free Mumia’ contingent, the ‘Free Palestine’ contingent, and if you ask me, they are all kind of separate from the war in Iraq.”

Even if opinions in the crowd were divided over solutions and issues, all protesters agreed that the Bush administration was the problem.

The UMass group started their march from 27th Street, after some slight confusion over the whereabouts of their banner, which had gotten a few blocks ahead, thanks to an over eager UMB student. They marched the whole circuit, more than forty city blocks, and found it to be an exhilarating experience.

Donna Rafferty, a UMB student, said the march was “very empowering.” She also said that the price was right, “It was the $10 bus ticket that did it.”

She continued, “I was a bit surprised we only filled one bus,” and added, “For as many people as there were, it was somewhat low-key. I found that surprising. You’d think with as many kooks as there are, it would be much more loud.”

The march was unmarked by trouble from the police, and volunteer legal observers, A.N.S.W.E.R. security personnel, and NYPD observation teams monitored the edges of the crowd closely. Two NYPD officers characterized the march as having “no problems at all. Very smooth, very well organized.”

The only fracticious note came when a group of counter-protesters, carrying clever signs like, “Except for Ending Slavery, Fascism, Nazism, Communism, War Never Solved Anything,” and “Say no to War!…Unless a Democrat is President,” got into a shoving match with A.N.S.W.E.R. security and were placed behind a steel barrier.

“We filtered in around 38th Street,” said Philip Chlanda, a sophomore at Hunter College. “We came up and people saw our signs, and we thought we’d have a nice discussion… but the officials told us we couldn’t march.”

Chlanda said that they had visited the A.N.S.W.E.R. website and found no indication that they would be unwelcome.

Security staff countered with their own accusation of harassment. Security staff said that they formed a human chain to contain the counter-demonstrators.

The Mass Media was unable to confirm reports of four arrests by police at the march. The march stands in sharp contrast to last year’s, which saw hundreds of arrests and allegations of brutality and trampling by mounted police.

About the Contributor
Carl Brooks served as news editor for The Mass Media the following years: 2003-2004