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On Steps of Capitol Building, Protesters Demand “End the War Now!”

By Kosta Harlan

Students and youth marching

Washington, DC – Over 20,000 demonstrators marched here on Sept. 15 to protest the U.S. occupation of Iraq. At the same time, dozens of demonstrations were held in cities across the country. Initiated by the ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition, the Sept. 15 protests were timed to coincide with top U.S. General David Petraeus’s report to Congress on the ‘surge’ earlier this week. Bush and Petraeus stated they will continue the war, but the response of the protesters was loud and clear: “End the war now!”

A broad variety of groups and organizations participated in the demonstration. The presence of military families and veterans of the Iraq War was significant, with hundreds of members of Iraq Veterans Against the War present and in fatigues. The veterans gave powerful speeches condemning the U.S. occupation of Iraq and demanding immediate withdrawal. The Iraq War veterans led the march from the White House to the steps of the Capitol building, where they then held a mass die-in to symbolize the more than 3783 U.S. troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis that have died in the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Large numbers of students and youth mobilized to come to D.C., and the youth and student contingent was a highlight of the march. The high-energy contingent brought together hundreds of students from a number of organizations, including Youth and Student ANSWER, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and the Campus Antiwar Network. The younger protesters held signs and chanted slogans connecting the occupations of Iraq and Palestine. When they passed by the right-wing ‘Gathering of Eagles,’ the students drowned out the reactionaries with anti-war chants.

Mary Leach, a member of University of North Carolina-Asheville SDS, said, “It amazes me that so many people from such diverse backgrounds are here in D.C. united around one thing – ending the war in Iraq – and our politicians still are doing nothing to bring the troops home. Students especially need to get organized and hold these politicians’ feet to the fire.”

At the end of the march, a dramatic confrontation took place when the protesters stormed past the police barricade towards the Capitol building. Capitol police scrambled to erect barricades and form police lines, while protesters chanted slogans and struggled to break through. At one point, police were nearly overwhelmed as some protesters, mainly veterans of the Iraq War, jumped over the barricades in several locations. Police wrestled the protesters to the ground and several were injured. In the end, one 197 people were arrested and at least two people were pepper sprayed.

Veteran of the Afghanistan war and Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) member Perry O’Brien, who was arrested at the protest, said, “This was a great example of what IVAW has chosen to do, which is to escalate our actions from purely symbolic protests to actual sacrifices, including civil disobedience. We can’t just voice our discontent, it’s time to put ourselves on the line to end this war.”

In two weeks another anti-war demonstration will take place in Washington D.C., this time planned to coincide with the passage in Congress of additional funding for the occupation of Iraq. Organizers with the Troops Out Now Coalition expect tens of thousands to hit the streets and demand that Congress de-fund the war.

Protesters confront police line

Iraqi flag in front of protesters, Capitol Building in the background.

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