Over 50 members of the Williams community made a 9-hour bus trip to Washington, D.C. this weekend to join tens, if not hundreds of thousands of protesters from across the country in a rally against the potential war in Iraq.
In addition to the 52 members of the College community on the charter bus provided by the Anti-war Community Taskforce (ACT), several students and alumni traveled by other bus services or private transportation and met up with the primary contingent at the protest.
The demonstration, timed to coincide with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend and dozens of similar protests across the country and the globe, was intended to show that at least a portion of the American public was opposed to war, according to event sponsor International A.N.S.W.E.R (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism).
The College community was well-represented for a variety of reasons and from a number of viewpoints. Many students were intent on accomplishing the same goals as event organizers â€“ to show the public, President Bush and Congress that there is a vocal anti-war movement.
“We wanted to let the president and Congress know of our opposition to the war,” Emily Kirby ’04 said. “I think it’s also important that the media hear anti-war voices and broadcast them to the general public. The mediaÂ can’t ignore 200,000 people on the Washington Mall. The President shouldn’t either.”
While Heather Foran ’04 agreed with this sentiment, she also said that “protesting is as much for the protesters as it is for the message they are trying to send. The sense of hope gained from rallying with a quarter of a million people is unbelievable â€“ and it helps each of those individuals to return to their communities with a renewed strength for their own fight.”
Other students, such as Jon Wisbey ’06, had never really been politically active before, and used this protest to gain a better perspective of the issues at play. “I think I got a better view of the overall picture,” he said, noting that it was certainly one-dimensional.
In keeping with the precedent set by King, organizers stressed non-violence throughout while making a passionate statement on the National Mall, the area between the Capitol and the Washington Monument, against military action on Iraq.
Organizers noted several times that the event was a fair representation of the American public, as people of all ages, races and backgrounds braved the 20 degree weather to rally against war.
Beginning at 11 a.m. and continuing for over three hours, speakers from various political action, civil rights and social justice groups spoke out against war and often the administration in general. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, Congressman John Conyers and actresses Jessica Lange and Tyne Daly were among the speakers.
Each speaker brought his or her own personal perspective to the rally, promising solidarity from legions of reparations supporters, veterans and welfare and civil rights activists in support of the anti-war movement.
Some, such as Wisbey, found these extraneous issues distracting. “I was a little bit put off by some of the extremists,” he said. “These people are passionate almost to the point where it was comical.”
“It is important to experience and see and hear the voices of many others along with my own,” Brooke Toczylowski ’03 said. “While I don’t agree with some of the many diverse opinions being displayed at these marches, they are representing themselves, as I am.”
As the speeches were ending, a large portion of the crowd headed 20 blocks across the city to the Washington Naval Yards, where a smaller protest took place. The march filled the streets alongside the Capitol building and other area landmarks to capacity, and police were on hand to ensure the generally peaceful crowd stayed orderly.
Organizers were unable to obtain permits for a public address system at the Naval Yards and challenged protesters to take initiative in developing chants and cheers. The cold temperatures encouraged some protesters to abandon the march in favor of warmer cars, buses and buildings. “The cold definitely made it a little less pleasant,” Diane Reis ’03 said. “But I don’t think it seriously dampened the protest.”
On the whole, members of the College delegation were satisfied with how the protest turned out.
“It was really inspiring to hear all ofÂ the speakersÂ and to stand in solidarity with so many people who feel the same way as you do,” Kirby said. “I think all of us who went to the protest brought this inspiration back to Williamstown and we’re going to use itÂ to keep building the anti-war movement hereÂ on campus and in the local community.”
Others were happy with the popularity of the protest on campus; there was a significant waiting list for seats on the bus, indicating the community spirit at Williams.
Reis, a longtime activist at Williams, said that this protest changed her jaded opinion of apathy among students at the College: “It’s easy to start thinking nobody around here cares,” she said. When 50 people give up their weekend to go to D.C., it shows you people here do care.”