"I want Bush to see that his people are against the war," declared 38-year-old Aris Cisneros, as he and his two childern joined a demonstration that filled the streets of downtown San Francisco.
Cisneros' sentiments were echoed coast to coast Saturday by the hundreds of thousands of Americans who marched in Washington, San Francisco and dozens of other communities in protest against the Bush administration's preparation for war with Iraq.
Braving freezing temperatures in Washington, tens of thousands of activists who had traveled by bus from as far away as Minnesota cheered as actress Jessica Lange declared, "The path this administration is on is wrong and we object. It is an immoral war they are planning and we must not be silenced."
"All this talk of war, all this rhetoric has been an excellent cover, an excellent camouflage, to turn back the clock on civil rights, on woman's rights, on social justice and on environmental policies," shouted Lange, who said she had come to Washington to tell the president: "We are the people. You do not speak for us."
Bush had hightailed it off to Camp David for the weekend. But the president and his aides could not have been unaware of the rising level of anti-war activism, of which Saturday's protests were merely the latest manifestation. On Thursday, the Chicago City Council voted 46-1 for a resolution expressing opposition to a pre-emptive attack against Iraq, making it the largest of more than 40 cities across the country to embrace an anti-war stance. Several days earlier, 110 officers from unions across the country had gathered in Chicago to organize US Labor Against the War with a declaration that "Bush's drive for war serves as a cover and distraction for the sinking economy, corporate corruption and layoffs."
Recent national polls have tracked a steady erosion of approval ratings for the president, which last week dropped below 60 percent for the first time since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. On Saturday, a new poll from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that 53 percent of Americans believe the president has so far failed to adequately justified ordering the United States military to invade Iraq and depose Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. "It sounds like a lot of you don't have respect for your president," joked a member of the British rock band Chumbawamba, as the group opened the Washington rally. The group debuted a new anti-war song, "Jacob's Ladder (Not In Our Name)" that complains about how "9/11 got branded, 9/11 got sold" as part of the Bush administration scheming to start a war with Iraq.
Again and again Saturday, at protests across the country, speakers described the administration's plans for launching a war against Iraq as a scheme to distract Americans from the president's domestic failures. "Bush keeps talking about weapons of mass destruction," said the Rev. Graylan Hagler of Washington's Plymouth Congregational Church told the rally outside the Capitol. "When I look at the White House I am much more worried about words of mass deception."
The rally that packed the National Mall in Washington was estimated by International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism) coalition organizers to have drawn several hundred thousand people, a number DC police failed to either refute or confirm. The San Francisco rally was said to have attracted more than 100,000 to hear Joan Baez sing anti-war songs and actor Martin Sheen declare: "We want to end our long and shameful silence here today and say 'No' to death and war. From this time forth, may all our thoughts, words and deeds be a nonviolent resistance to all violence. Let my country awake."
At least three thousand people demonstrated in Montpelier, Vermont. Several thousand people marched in Portland, Oregon. Thousands more hit the streets in Albuquerque, Tampa, Indianapolis and college towns such as Madison, Wisconsin. Protesters on the Las Vegas strip hoisted a sign that read: "Elvis hates war."
The historic figure most referenced at the demonstrations was not that "king,' however, On the eve of the national holiday marking the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr's birth, the slain civil rights leader's commitment to peace was referenced frequently by those who knew him, such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who addressed the Washington rally, to those who have followed in his tradition.
"If Dr. King was here to celebrate his birthday, Mr. Bush, he would not be inside preparing for military build up," Rev. Al Sharpton told the Washington demonstrators. "He'd be outside saying, ‘Give peace a chance."
Sharpton closed his speech to thunderous applause as he declared, "Happy Birthday, Martin – just like Bush's son is in the White House, your children are here (demonstrating) today."