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By Giannina L. Garces Ambrossi, Johns Hopkins University

WASHINGTON, Sept. 28, 2006

“Our generation must make a united front for peace and nonviolence,” 18 year-old Kat Meier of Michigan’s Kalamazoo Valley Community College said Wednesday, on the steps of the U.S. House of Representatives. Meier joined 150 nonviolent activists calling for support of the Congressional Declaration of Peace Pledge and an end to the Iraq War. The Pledge promises a representative will vote for three bills: H.R. 4232, the End War in Iraq Act, H.C.R. 348, to redeploy troops out of Iraq, and H.C.R. 197, to avoid a permanent military presence in Iraq.

Meier came to D.C. because she felt useless in a small town; she wanted to help “end Bush’s agenda,” but had no outlet to express her convictions. To others like her, she advises: “You must take a chance, get out of your comfort zone, and join with groups like these. You also have to bring the message back to your small town. We can’t let the life of political action sit in these big cities.”

Activists came to Washington Wednesday from all parts of the country, with differing reasons for wanting to end the war: veteran Daniel Ritchie of Atlanta, Georgia, joined the “die-in” staged on the steps of the House because he believes, “We need to up the ante…to stop the war in Iraq.” Giancarlo Campagna, a poet from San Francisco, joined in carrying a coffin up the steps because he was “mourning for those who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq. … [I] offer support and outrage because of this.” Participant George Paz-Martin, director of Peace Action Wisconsin, supported the Declaration of Peace Pledge because “our men and women and the Iraqi people continue to die and suffer because of our presence.”

Renée Saucedo, organizer of San Francisco’s La Raza Centro Legal and an immigrant’s rights lawyer and activist, headed the rally with a passionate speech. She said she traveled from California because Latinos are under-represented in political decisions. “The powers that be want us to feel hopeless and powerless,” she said. “We must remind ourselves that it is our country, and we still have the power of our voice in our country.” Her speech, along with performances from the folk singers Emma’s Revolution, were part of a day of peaceful but determined antiwar actions that left participants reinvigorated. Derilyn Tom of San Francisco was determined to “reinvigorate and reaffirm” her stance against the Iraq War. News organizations such as the St. Louis Dispatch, Roll Call, and the Associated Press were present to document the events.

Paki Weiland, a 63-year old protester from Massachusetts, was arrested at the rally: “I had to bring my body here to call on my representative, [Congressman Richard Neal],” she said. The Peace Pledge has already been signed by Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Danny Davis (D-IL), Sam Farr (D-CA), Chaka Fattah (D-PA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), John Lewis (D-OR), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA).

Wednesday was the third consecutive day of rallies for peace, all part of a “Week of Action” across the nation intended to push Congress to withdraw troops and redirect efforts into a “Plan for Peace”. Tuesday’s “coffin processional” into the Senate was the largest showing, with 300 to 400 supporters and 71 arrests. Twenty-six protesters were arrested at Wednesday’s processional and “die-in” at the House. The week-long campaign urges Congress to “legislate and implement a comprehensive, concrete, and rapid plan to end the war… in Iraq.” Rally organizers planned the protests this week because legislators will soon return to their home states for mid-term elections.

Speaker Ken Butigan of Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service in Oakland, California ended the rally by summarizing the goal of the day: “We have the opportunity to declare peace, and we are here doing so for those who have died, for our American brothers and sisters, and for our Iraqi brothers and sisters.”