In an assembly that resembled a revival as much as a peace rally, nearly 500 people filled the sanctuary of Antioch Baptist Church in Cleveland last night to protest the United States' plan to invade Iraq.
The "Voices Against the War" rally was billed initially as an effort by Greater Cleveland's black community to unite in opposition to the war. But nearly as many whites as blacks came to cheer impassioned pleas for peace from politicians, clergy and activists.
The rally, sponsored by the new Intercommunity/Interfaith Push for Peace, a coalition of 25 activist groups, was held on a day when the media were reporting that President Bush is sending 60,000 more American troops to the Persian Gulf, doubling the number of military personnel in the region.
The Rev. Mylion Waite, associate pastor of Antioch, said Push for Peace was formed to counter the perception that most Americans support a war against Iraq. She said no pollsters had sought the opinion of rally organizers or their families.
"We thought we would invite all of you here so we can get a better sense of what the pulse really is," Waite said.
The Rev. Otis Moss Jr., pastor of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, said the United States has had a history of debate before committing troops to battle, that even Abraham Lincoln had to be "forced into glory." During the Civil War, it was only the Confederates who had the "itch" to fight a war, he said.
"Do we still have the Confederate itch?" Moss asked. "There is something dangerous about any nation with a war itch."
As did other speakers, Moss wondered what the United States could do at home with the billions of dollars it will spend to fight a war in Iraq. "The cost of war is greater than the price of peace," he said.
The Rev. Joan Brown-Campbell, the mother of Mayor Jane Campbell, who also was at the rally, talked about traveling to Iraq in 1991, a week before the first war against Saddam Hussein. She said she returned 10 years later on a humanitarian mission and while she was there a baby died in her arms.
"I have prayed with the Iraqi people, they are our sisters and brothers," Brown-Campbell said. "There is there, as there is here, a will for peace. But it must be given voice. We cannot be timid in our cries for peace and justice."
The United States cannot ask the world to disarm while its troops are poised for war, she said. "We need to tell the world what weapons we have, and then we have a right to ask that of every other nation," Brown-Campbell said.
The speech by U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a Cleveland Democrat, began with a standing ovation and ended with cries of "Mr. President" from the audience. There is speculation among his political allies that he might be considering a presidential bid in 2004.
Iraq has not committed any acts of aggression toward the United States, was not responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the anthrax scare, Kucinich said. Nor has it been established that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction or plans to attack the United States, he said.
The reason the Bush administration wants to send hundreds of thousands of men and women into combat and to destroy the lives of Iraqi people is the pursuit of oil and empire building, Kucinich said.
"We must be prepared to stand up, to speak out, to organize, to demand an end to the war or demand an end to the administration which insists on war," Kucinich said.