NEW BEDFORD -- More than 200 area residents stood on the steps of the Hastings Keith Federal Building last night and "pledged their resistance" to the looming war in Iraq.
"We believe that as people living in the United States it is our responsibility
to resist the injustices done by our government, in our names," recited the group
in a "Pledge of Resistance," a take-off of the Pledge of Allegiance, that is being
promoted by the anti-war organization Not
in Our Name.
The gathering, which included many members of the area's progressive churches and youth groups as well as several individuals from the local Muslim community, held lighted candles in the balmy November night.
One man held a fiberglass dove with a mock olive branch in its mouth; another hoisted a candle-lit tinfoil "peace" sign; two more carried a United Nations flag; and two others a flag with a photograph of the earth taken from space.
Glenn Stewart and others march down Union Street last night on their way from
the Unitarian Church to the Hastings Keith Federal Building as part of the "Not
In Our Name" peace rally. (Photo/ANDREW T. GALLAGHER/Standard-Times special
They bore homemade signs with slogans like "Peace is Patriotic," and "No War for Oil Company Profits."
Led by local activists Marlene Pollock and Dan Gilbarg, the group rallied for more than an hour at the First Unitarian Church on Eighth Street.
At the rally, they sang songs, chanted slogans and listened to speakers as diverse as the Rev. Ann Fox from the Unitarian Memorial Church in Fairhaven; Will Desnoyers from the United Auto Workers union; and hip-hop artist Tyson Rose, aka "Dialect Chef."
"If you bomb Iraq, we people are gonna come with a vapor attack," rapped the Dialect Chef.
"Why have we still not learned to sit down and struggle together with our issues?" asked the Rev. Fox.
After the rally, the group marched with their candles to the federal building chanting phrases like "War in Iraq, Not by Me!" and "Hey, hey, ho, ho, General Bush has got to go!"
With the polls showing the American public favoring by a wide margin the potential war, the peace protest drew its own protest even before it had occurred.
Arthur Larrivee, a Republican state committeemen from Dartmouth, labeled the rally plans "un-American" during an afternoon talk show on radio station WBSM.
After the rally, he told The Standard-Times that the protesters have forgotten that 3,000 lives were taken in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., just a year ago.
Iraq is among a group of countries whose governing principle is hatred of America, he said.
"I don't think Saddam would allow you to do this on the front steps of one of his palaces in Iraq," he said.
Mr. Larrivee blasted Ms. Pollock and Mr. Gilbarg, two Bristol Community College professors whose group the Coalition for Social Justice is involved in many local progressive causes.
He questioned the appropriateness of their organizing rallies when they work for a state college.
"Both of them ought to be fired," he said.
The protest might have been organized by Ms. Pollock and Mr. Gilbarg, but it drew a diverse group of participants..
David Dionne, a former Westport selectman, came on a bicycle with a sign that said "Bin Laden says drive an SUV and finance me!"
Dan and Colleen Avidakian, also of Westport, brought their 9-week-old baby, William, with them.
"We both wanted to be here," said Colleen.
Others came with friends or pet dogs; some spoke of their own experiences.
Maryam Khalil, wife of UMass Dartmouth professor Omar Khalil, said she does not like Saddam Hussein, but that it is for the Iraqi people to overthrow him. Mrs. Khalil spoke at the rally.
"I know some people from Iraq, they really suffer," she said.
"I know how much they're suffering. They've lost life, they've lost houses, they've lost everything and they don't have any hope in their life," she said.
An Iranian, she said she has relatives in Iraq and that the Persian Gulf War 10 years ago resulted in the Iraqi people, not Saddam Hussein, suffering.
The Rev. Dr. Evan R. Johnson, a retired Methodist minister from Westport, acknowledged that he was concerned that his participation in the protest might be dangerous given the possible war's popularity.
He noted that he had served in both World War II and Korea and had also witnessed the McCarthy era when patriotic fervor led to witch hunts against perceived communists.
He regrets that he has to give his wartime credentials so his patriotism won't be questioned, he said.
America has not convinced the rest of the world that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction pose a specific threat to America, he said.
"I love America too much not to criticize it," he said.