Published on Saturday, February 15, 2003 by the New York Times
Sea fo Faces Extended for More Than Mile up First Avenue
From New York to Melbourne, Cries for Peace
by Robert D. McFadden
Confronting America's countdown to war, throngs of chanting, placard-waving demonstrators converged on New York and scores of cities across the United States, Europe and Asia today in a global daisy chain of largely peaceful protests against the Bush administration's threatened invasion of Iraq.
On a freezing winter day in New York, a huge crowd, prohibited by a court order from marching, rallied within sight of the United Nations amid heavy security. They raised banners of patriotism and dissent, sounded the hymns of a broad new antiwar movement and heard speakers denounce what they called President Bush's rush to war, while offering no sympathy for Iraq's dictator, Saddam Hussein.
"The World Says No to War," proclaimed a huge banner over a stage on First Avenue near 51st Street, the focal point of a vast crowd that filled the avenue between 49th and 72nd Streets and spilled over into the side streets and to Second, Third and Lexington Avenues, where thousands more were halted at police barricades, far from the sights and sounds of the demonstration.
Crowd estimates are often little more than politically tinged guesses, and the police did not provide one. Organizers said that more than 400,000 people attended and, given the sea of faces extending for more than a mile up First Avenue and the ancillary crowds that were prevented from joining them, the claim did not appear to be wildly improbable.
There were similar though smaller demonstrations in Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle, San Diego, Sacramento, Miami and scores of other American cities, organized under the umbrella of United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of 120 organizations.
In London, 500,000 to 750,000 people rallied in Hyde Park, while 200,000 gathered at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and hundreds of thousands more protested in Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Barcelona, Rome, Melbourne, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Auckland, Seoul, Tokyo and Manila. Many contended that America's interest in Iraq had more to do with oil than disarming a dangerous tyrant.
The demonstrations were the culmination of a global campaign that has been building for weeks in opposition to the growing threat of war, with thousands marching, rallying, signing petitions, raising funds, publishing articles and using the Internet to enlist a diverse coalition of citizens and celebrities.
Unlike the stereotypical scruffy, pot-smoking, flag-burning anarchists of the Vietnam era, today's protests were joined by a wide segment of the political spectrum: college students, middle-aged couples, families, older people who had marched for civil rights, and groups representing labor, the environment and religious, business and civic organizations.
For most demonstrators, President Bush was the chief villain, a casualty of what some called an obsession with his father's Persian Gulf War in 1991 and its failure to oust Saddam Hussein. Other targets were Mr. Bush's secretary of defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld, and his secretary of state, Colin L. Powell.
"I came to go to the rally and be a part of a global voice against going to war against Iraq again," said Mary Baxter, 31, employed by a software company in Cambridge, Mass., whose quiet solemnity seemed typical. "I feel the current administration has been escalating and destabilizing things. I'm disappointed that Colin Powell is going along with Bush, Cheney and the rest of them."
Angela Tsang, 21, a Barnard College student who was part of a contingent called the Columbia University Antiwar Coalition, said her group believed that an American attack on Iraq would achieve nothing but death and injustice.
"We see the war against Iraq as unjust," she said. "We don't believe Bush's rhetoric. I think he's not acting in the best interest of the American people. We're risking the lives of hundreds of American soldiers and an untold number of lives in the Middle East, and a war will not solve the problem of terrorism. It disgusts me. I can't accept that."
Beyond criticizing Mr. Bush and his lieutanants, many protesters offered nuanced arguments about the conflict, agreeing that President Hussein should not be allowed to possess weapons of mass destruction, but insisting that pre-emptive military strikes were morally bankrupt and would harm the economy, deepen the divisions between America and the Arab world and undermine United States alliances in Europe and Asia.
It was a hard day for a rally in New York. The ground was frozen and the protesters were buttoned to the eyes against the 25-degree cold and an icy wind that scythed off the East River and scorched the face. But the crowd was enthusiastic: cheering speakers, chanting antiwar slogans and raising banners that promoted other agendas as well, including "Free Palestine" and "Free Medical Marijuana."
They were joined by a number of celebrities, including Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and the actors Danny Glover, Susan Sarandon and Harry Belafonte. American flags and other symbols of patriotism waved in the crowds.
The singer Richie Havens led off the proceedings with a rendition of "Freedom," the song he performed 34 years ago on Max Yasgur's Farm for the Woodstock Festival.
"Peace! Peace! Peace!" Bishop Tutu, the 71-year-old veteran of the peace movement, declared. "Let America listen to the rest of the world — and the rest of the world is saying, `Give the inspectors time.' "
Martin Luther King 3rd told the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd, "Just because you have the biggest gun does not mean you must use it."
One face in the crowd belonged to Michael Callandrillo, 53, a teacher from Dover, N.J. "I've been to demonstrations and rallies all over the country, and some have had a nasty feel to them," he said. "Others have had a lackluster feeling. But this one feels just right. People are informed, people are passionate. People don't want trouble. They just want to be heard."
All morning, buses had converged on Midtown Manhattan, disgorging groups from New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, and other states. Despite lines of barricades and a huge police presence, surging crowds spilled off sidewalks, jammed streets leading to the East Side and occasionally clashed with police officers.
In accordance with a federal court order, the demonstrators in New York were prohibited from staging a march, which city officials had insisted might be dangerous to the protesters. Instead, they were limited to a rally behind barricades, a penned-in, more pacific and less powerful expression of protest.
The area set aside for the rally, First Avenue between 49th Street and 72nd Street, was filled from sidewalk to sidewalk by early afternoon, and thousands more were caught behind barricades on other East Side avenues and streets, enable to reach the demonstration.
Blocked by barricades and officers, a few dozen protesters were arrested at Second Avenue between 53rd and 54th Streets when they breached the barricades in an attempt to get to the rally. They were charged with disorderly conduct, officers said. Many in the crowd at that location were waving Palestinian flags and chanting: "Free Palestine."
But the main body of demonstrators consisted of young to middle-aged Americans who were skeptical of Bush administration war plans and frustrated by the seemingly implacable move toward conflict, the mobilization and movement of naval flotillas, aircraft and thousands of troops into the Persian Gulf region in recent weeks, and daily pronouncements from Washington about war preparations and the urgency of invading Iraq.
The police did not disclose details of their security operation, but it was mounted during one of the most intense national security alerts since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and it included thousands of uniformed officers in the streets, sharp-shooters on rooftops and plainclothes officers in the crowds.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company