Yesterday marked the eighth anniversary of the massive February 15, 2003 demonstrations against the (at the time) impending US war on Iraq. An estimated 12 million people marched around the world, raising our voices for peace and against pre-emptive war. It was the largest demonstration in human history. Judith Le Blanc, currently Peace Action’s terrific National Field Organizer, was one of the main organizers for United for Peace and Justice, which coordinated the events in the US, and served as a liaison with peace movements abroad.
I’ll never forget it. I was in New York, and it was very, very cold, but the joy of the beautiful peace-mongers clogging the streets of Manhattan was infectious. I had the distinct and unique privilege of being with colleagues from our sister peace group Gensuikin, who had come all the way from Japan to be with us in New York. They were not well-dressed for the cold, but they were so happy to be there.
Were you there? Or in the streets in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, London, Paris or elsewhere? I’d love to here your memories of the day, please share them if you feel so moved.
Though we had been working for months to build opposition to the war, we didn’t really expect such a massive expression of the will of the people of the world to oppose George Bush’s outrageous drive to war. In the weeks and days before February 15, I didn’t think we could stop the war, but that day, I thought just maybe our voices were so strong and clear they could not be ignored. The New York Times gushingly editorialized the next day that we represented the world’s second superpower, world public opinion against the war. (David Cortright titled his history of the anti-war movement of 2002-2003 A Peaceful Superpower.)
Of course we did not stop the war. George Bush ignorantly and arrogantly dismissed us as a “focus group” (really? 12 million people, a focus group?).
The US war and occupation was, as we predicted, a calamity. Eight years later, Iraq is still a wreck, and it’s not clear the US will completely remove all troops, bases and contractors by the end of the year, as we are obliged to under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) Bush signed with the Iraqi government. While most peace activists are focused more on Afghanistan and other issues, we must remain vigilant and hold President Obama accountable to this withdrawal deadline, and we must repay the huge debt owed the Iraqi people for the immense destruction of their country. I haven’t seen any definitive estimate of what a just amount for reconstruction and reparations would be, but it must surely in the tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars.
Some decry the current reality that the peace movement can no longer rally millions of people in the streets to demand an end to the war in Afghanistan. However, we have turned the tide of public opinion against that war, and we are building powerful alliances to demand serious cuts in military spending in order to reinvest in human needs.
I am privileged to work for peace with brilliant, indefatigable activists all over the country and around the world. I am sustained in this work every day by what I know people can do when we come together, as the recent remarkable revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East have shown the world. And I’ll cherish the memory of February 15, 2003 as long as I live.