WASHINGTON, D.C. --
James Creedon awoke in his home in New York City the morning of Sept. 11 to learn that two planes had just hit the World Trade Center towers.
A paramedic, the 24-year-old Creedon immediately called in to work and was told to go straight to "ground zero." There, a supervisor handed him his helmet and equipment.
As he was helping set up a triage station just 200 feet from one of the towers, the tower collapsed. "Suddenly, I felt a rumble, a roar," Creedon recalled. "I looked up at the tower, and it looked like an umbrella being opened."
He ran for his life, away from the avalanche of steel, concrete and glass.
"As I was running, I could feel the debris falling on me," he said. Chunks of concrete hit him in the back, and he was knocked off his feet, losing his helmet and most of his gear. "It was pitch black, and we couldn't breathe. There was screaming. I was trying to calm people down and breathe through my shirt."
Creedon linked arms with people around him. Barely able to see the ground, they worked their way out of the dust cloud. Creedon emerged with an injury to his left ankle tendon, a twisted left knee, cuts in his head, burns on both ears and glass embedded in his back.
He could have lost his life. Some 6,000 others did.
"My first response to it was to feel anger, to want vengeance," he recalled.
The cycle of violence
Instead, Creedon joined thousands of people who rallied and marched on the nation's capital last weekend protesting U.S. military attacks that could kill large numbers of civilians in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
"I'm here, like thousands of other people, to say that we don't want a racist war," Creedon said, standing among a massive crowd at Freedom Plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue. "We don't want a war that's going to take the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people."
The demonstrations coincided with events in several other cities across the nation and the world, including a Saturday march in Denver and a Sunday vigil in downtown Colorado Springs. Altogether, tens of thousands of people turned out across the globe last weekend to challenge the assumption that all Americans are united behind George W. Bush's talk of war.
Many peace marchers said the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks should be brought to justice in a court of law. But they also denounced the cries for military action, saying bombings would add to the loss of innocent lives and further fuel the resentment against the United States.
"Violence begets violence," said Rebecca Vanderbilt of Longmont, one of a handful of Coloradans who marched in Washington. "I think there's a lot of things we need to look at -- how other innocent people are going to be hurt or could be hurt -- and this will just continue the cycle of violence."
Others insisted that the United States needs to examine how its foreign policy may create anti-American sentiments abroad. Many highlighted the U.S. government's support for the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, pointing out the position is in violation of U.N. resolutions. Others offered criticism over the U.S. backing of sanctions that have left an estimated 1 million civilians in Iraq dead. Another target for criticism: the U.S. 1998 bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, believed to have caused the deaths of thousands.
"We have to look at the conduct, as painful as it may be for some people, of our own government," said Ron Daniels, director of the New York--based Center for Constitutional Rights. "We have to look at the full range of things that have been done by our nation around the world."
Some suggested the Bush administration was whipping up war hysteria in order to advance right-wing interests and crack down on domestic dissent.
"War has always been used, no matter how noble the cause, to advance the interests of those who run the country," said Ahmed Shawki, editor of the International Socialist Review, who spoke Friday night during a panel discussion organized by Mobilization for Global Justice.
Others were critical of Attorney General John Ashcroft's proposal expanding the government's powers to wiretap individuals and to detain foreign nationals indefinitely without charges. The concept, they said, is reminiscent of the FBI's wiretapping of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
Political climate deters some
Many who marched had originally planned to participate in massive demonstrations against free trade, targeting meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which were initially scheduled to take place in Washington last weekend. When the institutions canceled their meetings in the wake of the terrorist attacks, many of the same activists descended to march for peace instead.
A large number, however, stayed home. Several groups were concerned that protests in the wake of the tragedy might be viewed as frivolous or divisive.
The Mobilization for Global Justice, the lead group organizing against the IMF and World Bank, canceled most of its activities. The AFL-CIO, which had planned to send tens of thousands of union members into the streets, pulled out of the weekend long demonstrations, as did a number of environmental groups.
Those who went ahead said it was important to do so even though many might see protests as unpatriotic during a time of crisis.
"It's a risk, but it's a risk you have to take," Daniels said. "We cannot shut down dissent and civil liberties."
The Rev. Graylan Hagler, of the Plymouth Congregational Church in Washington, said Christians who support peace "refuse to be silenced" by Bush's rhetorical attempts to divide the world into two camps: those who support the U.S. government, and those who support the terrorists. Hagler said peace activists stand with neither.
"We stand with the people of the world, who long for peace and justice," he said.
Other activists differed on tactics and message. Some emphasized how U.S. domination causes resentment around the world, while others urged for a focus exclusively on a message of peace. All, however, expressed outrage at the terrorist attacks, and many began their events with moments of silence for the victims.
Three separate marches took place. On Saturday morning, an estimated 1,000 people participated in a march organized by the Anti-Capitalist Convergence, a group with anarchist leanings.
Baton-wielding police in body armor appeared to equal the protesters in number but allowed the march to proceed. Only two minor scuffles erupted, during which police pepper-sprayed and beat some protesters.
Later on Saturday, a crowd of 7,000 rallied around Freedom Plaza before marching down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol. That protest was organized by the International Action Center, a New York--based group founded by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark.
The IAC had originally secured a permit to hold the rally and march at the White House, but the Secret Service revoked the permit days before the event. A spokesman for the service, Special Agent Brian Marr, said an emergency ban had been implemented due to reports that the White House might have been a terrorist target.
"These large groups can unintentionally provide cover for other activities," Marr said. "Large groups that are that close to the White House can also provide an inviting target for terrorists," he said.
Unconvinced, the IAC promised a legal challenge, saying the administration was trying to stifle dissent.
While boisterous, the IAC rally and march went off peacefully. And on Sunday, a more mellow crowd of about 2,000 participated in a rally at Malcolm X Park, organized by the Washington Peace Center and the American Friends Service Committee. The crowd proceeded to march through the streets, waving peace flags and chanting slogans. "Honor them with peace," one of their signs urged, referring to the terror victims.
A few counter-protesters turned out. One man, who wore a stars-and-stripes baseball cap and gave his name only as Robert, greeted marchers with a sign that read, "Welcome traitors."
"The whole world is united against this evil," the man said, referring to the terrorists. The demonstrators, he added, "are interfering with our defense."
But for the most part, bystanders watching the peace marches seemed mainly curious. Many smiled, and a few gave a thumbs-up. During the two days of demonstrations, 11 people were arrested, according to D.C. police.
By contrast, in Denver, police arrested nine peace protesters during a Saturday rally that drew around 1,000 people. The Denver protesters, who were wearing black clothing and masks, were alleged to be dangerous because they had, in their possession, slingshots and steak knives, police said.
Objective reporting: Bomb 'em all
The peace demonstrators in Washington included a broad range of people and groups of varied races and religions. But they represented perhaps only a small minority of Americans, judging from polls that have shown support for a U.S. military response running as high as 90 percent.
Several activists maintained that while the polls may reflect broad support for war, that support may not be deep. They blamed the poll numbers in large part on the mainstream media, which they say have fanned the war frenzy while shutting out the voices of dissent.
"The media have been driving the war machine," Hagler said.
CNN has been promoting its news reports on U.S. response to the terrorism under the logo "America's New War." And Bill O'Reilly, a popular host on the Fox News Channel, recently advocated on the air that if Afghanistan doesn't hand over suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, "the U.S. should bomb the Afghan infrastructure to rubble -- the airport, the power plants, their water facilities, and the roads." Added O'Reilly, "The Afghans are responsible for the Taliban. We should not target civilians. But if they don't rise up against this criminal government, they starve, period."
The media, many noted, are aping the tone set by the nation's leaders. In Congress, all but one member voted to give the Bush administration broad powers to take military action in response to the attacks.
Colorado Springs Rep. Joel Hefley's spokeswoman Sarah Shelden pointed out that, because the president can declare an act of war without Congress, the majority vote, which included the Republican Hefley's, was more of a message of solidarity.
"They did this as a show of support -- not only to sort of grant authority, but to show their support and their backing for any action that the administration would take," Shelden said.
The blank check
But judging from the public response to the sole dissenter, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., not all Americans were clamoring to give Bush such wide latitude.
Lee, who represents the cities of Berkeley, Oakland and Alameda, said in a written statement that she was "repulsed and angered" by the terrorist attacks and wanted the perpetrators brought to justice. However, she disagreed with the characterization of the resolution as symbolic.
"It provided explicit authority, under the War Powers Resolution and the Constitution, to go to war," Lee said. "It was a blank check to the president to attack anyone involved in the Sept. 11 events -- anywhere, in any country, without regard to our nation's long-term foreign policy, economic and national security interests, and without time limit.
"In granting these overly broad powers, the Congress failed its responsibility to understand the dimensions of its declaration ... . A rush to launch precipitous military counterattacks runs too great a risk that more innocent men, women and children will be killed."
Andrew Sousa, a spokesman for Lee, said her office has received more than 35,000 letters, e-mails and phone calls from constituents regarding the vote. Many initially disagreed with her stance, he said, but as she has explained her position, most of the feedback has turned positive.
Local organizers also say there may be more people feeling reluctant to rush into war than what the media are reporting.
Mary Sprunger-Froese, of the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission in Colorado Springs, said many new people have been coming to the group's meetings since the terrorist attacks.
"There are people in Colorado Springs who are Americans, who grieve for the tragedy, and who also want very much for us to pursue every avenue of nonviolence," Sprunger-Froese said.
A movement in flux
Only time will tell whether the emerging peace movement builds into a true mass movement, most observers agreed. Many noted, however, that it has mobilized more rapidly than similar movements during previous conflicts -- a phenomenon some attribute to the preexistence of a strong protest movement that has sprung up around global-trade issues.
IAC organizer Sarah Sloan said she believes the threat of war and racial profiling of Arab and Muslim Americans may be galvanizing activists, who are already holding weekly peace vigils and already planning for more peace marches.
"We think that there will be a growing section of the population that will begin to question the war," Sloan predicted. "It happened during Vietnam."
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