Anti-War Protest Still Draws Crowds

"From Iraq to Palestine, Occupation is a crime" was one of the many chants featured on the sixth anniversary of the Iraq War and Occupation Rally and March. As it has been every year, the Act Now to Stop War & End Racism or ANSWER Coalition, organized this march on Saturday March 21.

The march started with a rally on the corners of Hollywood and Vine, in the heart of Hollywood. As people crossed the street from the Metro station to join the thousands gathered with their signs and banners, a group of protesters from the group "Jews Against the Occupation" greeted the public with signs that read "End US Support For Israel's Siege & War On Gaza", "Not In The Name Of Peace Shall War Be Waged". A man in his late 50s carrying a sign that read "Dear Israel, Go F_ _k Yourself Your's Truly: God, Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Gandhi and Mother Freakin Teresa" said "Wherever anyone that protests the US government and Israel I'm there. The US government and Israel are the worst most evil governments in the planet. Do you think 19 Arabs really hijacked the planes? The would show us a picture of the moon landing but not of the pentagon being hit by the plane, the show you a grainy picture. Stop the war stop the killing, you got to stop killing innocent people"

Another like-minded group that had the attention of the public with their big blue banners were from the Zeitgeist movement that believes, as expressed in their banners: "9-11 Controlled Demolitions" "9-11: What You Don't Know Is Killing People"

Across the street was a single man waving the US flag with a sign that read "Support The Troops", the only conservative counter-protester claiming that being against the war is "anti-patriotic" and "anti-American." The other forms of counter protesting came from the fundamentalist Christians, familiar to Santa Monica College students, that said "you have to repent for your sins if you want salvation." Also, a man with a bullhorn kept saying: "you have to stop eating meat, the biggest crime happening now is the mass slaughter of animals for consumption. Go Vegan!"

The mixed crowd, from the very young to the very old, seemed to be together with one goal in mind, as demonstrated by the sea of home-made signs and pickets that demanded an end to the wars of Iraq, Afghanistan and occupation of Palestine; "War Is Not The Answer", "Free Palestine", "Veterans Say No To War". A theme that came up in the various signs from the participants showed a concern the effects of war and occupation and the innocent civilians from the different wars, as well as supporting the safe return of the American soldiers sent to war.

The energy from the participants was of determination and positively channeled anger to those in power letting the injustices of war and occupation go on. Most of the organizations had an "anti-imperialist anti-capitalist" agenda, pushing for socialism and communism as an option for capitalism, that was called "an economic system that is responsible for racism and the oppression that people around the world are suffering" by a young man dressed in black wearing a scarf covering most of his face. Tina Richards from Veterans for Peace, the non-profit organization in charge of "Arlington West" -who pust up the crosses and coffins in the Santa Monica pier representing all the dead soldiers every Sunday- said: "The one thing I ask is truth in recruiting. My son once told me, 'if the recruiter would have told me I was going to see my friends blown up', he wouldn't have joined!"

There were also tents selling books, stickers and shirts, as well as people inviting anyone around to organize in their different political groups. Revolution Books, a group that helped organize with the International Women's Day Coalition for the International Women's Day March, was trying to get members for their just created L.A. chapter of the Revolution Books Club. Members from the Oakland chapter came down to help during the IWDM.

A man not far from them was selling t-shirts that read "Defense Contracts Equal Dead Babies" "Most People Need The Lie", was an interesting contrast to the new Israel Defense Forces' shirts that feature a pregnant woman with a crosshair in her stomach reading "1 Shot, 2 Kills", as well as others featuring children "the smaller they are the harder they fall" and others featuring mosques being destroyed. "Bring the troops home now End The Occupations of Afghanistan Iraq Palestine" said a large banner carried by a group called the Socialist Worker.

"I say up with the people, I say down with the war. I say up with mi gente, I say down with occupation" were some of the spirited songs from the Bus Riders Union, which had the most enthusiastic and younger crowd. The banging of drums and energy from the leading members with the bullhorn helped the energy flow, even before they started marching, the singing and dancing was going strong.

"[the Bus Riders Union] a civil rights, multi-racial multi-generation organization and they're focus on issues around the environment and relocating money to fix the (bus) lines on the street" said member Haewon Asfaw. "They connect how US imperialism affects everything, the prison system, the way we live. We have three campaigns, the bus riders union, the 'clean air clean buses; 1000 more buses 1000 less police. The Major wants more police and take away from public services" Asfaw's sister Rahael said "We also want decriminalization of truancy tickets, as we see it as a first step to locking people up, and to build a central office to have all the complaints made against police easier to file.

After passing all of the groups gathered, you got to the ANSWER truck. On it, speakers told the crowd within hearing distance -the sounds from people talking, singing or playing drums making the main speeches inaudible for anyone 20 feet away from them- about their ongoing struggle to get the word out on the abuse from Israel to the Palestinian people, how the troops from Iraq are being moved to Afghanistan and how "People did vote for hope when they voted for Obama, we know it was an antiwar vote but so far we haven't seen that change" said Michael Prysner, Iraq war veteran and member of the Veterans and Service Members Task Force of the ANSWER Coalition "change only comes from fighting and struggling in the streets" The marching finally got on the way after famous Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic spoke and led the John Lennon song "Give Peace a Chance."

"End, end the occupation, bring, bring the troops home now" was sung as the march finally got on the way being led by the ANSWER truck and a group of people carrying coffins covered with Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan and US flags. The faces of the people carrying the coffins, a diverse group of people from all ethnicities, ages, and gender had a look of determination to get the point across. "We want money for healthcare not for war" another chant said. The coffins were put down when the march reached the Kodak Center.

"Two days ago was the anniversary of the criminal invasion of Iraq, did the media cover it?" Prysner said, "People were taking to the streets, the movement is not dead. There were veterans scaling the Veterans Association office that said 'Veterans Say No To Occupation' and they arrested us but they didn't keep us detained because they didn't want the news out. As long as there is one person, one troop or soldier that doesn't belong in Iraq we will continue, Iraq is for Iraqis"

A symbolic action was to take place next, a "Die-In." Prysner asked the thousands of people present to emulated the dead "from Iraq to Afghanistan to Palestine" due to war by laying down and pretend to be dead. As the sound of bombs emanated from the ANSWER truck's speakers, the people laid down, including many of the people shopping in Hollywood. The "Die-In" was followed by the last symbolic gesture of the day, when the coffins carried for the past hour and half were deposited outside of the Hollywood recruitment office.

"I came home expecting to find my country enraged from the injustice I have seen. Instead I saw a country asleep" said in a closing statement Ryan Endicott from Iraq Veterans Against the War, "If you're one of those sleepers that thinks we're spreading democracy instead of martial law around the world... who still dreams that we're in Iraq to fight terrorism... I only have one thing to say to you WAKE UP!"